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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Addison Groove Spreads Funky Jazz Over Jam

Author: Kate Prouty

As they extend their audience range beyond the jam band-primed ears of fans raised on Phish and String Cheese Incident, Addison Groove Project (AGP) is quickly distancing themselves from the "jamming" portion of the modern music menu. Judging by the new sounds they produced in their most recent album Allophone, AGP has much bigger fish to fry.

An all male sextet from Boston, AGP and bands like them are drawing the jam band fan focus away from Grateful Dead revivalists (like Phish, moe., and String Cheese Incident) towards a funk/jazz sub-genre being popularized by acts like Medeski, Martin and Wood and Soulive. Influenced by performers like James Brown, Miles Davis and Parliament, AGP's sound is versed with the lexicon of jazz rather than having their roots in rock and roll, as did the Grateful Dead.

Because five out of six members are still in college, the band has been touring professionally for the past four years mainly around New England and New York.

Nominated for the 2001 Boston Music Awards' first-ever category devoted to jam bands ("Outstanding Jam Band"), AGP has proven that they are tapped into one of the most popular emerging musical forms. And yet they have extended their range well beyond the confines of what often turns into longwinded musical jamming in which the impact of individual instruments is buried beneath the cluttered sound of the ensemble.

Exuding sounds of jazz and funk legends like James Brown and Parliament, AGP proved in their sold-out CD-release show at the Higher Ground in Winooski, Vt., last Saturday night that they can groove with the best of them. Literally.

After opening with "Turning Points" off their new album, AGP lead guitarist Brendan McGinn welcomed to stage the band's "friends" Charlie Hunter and DJ Logic. The thrill of calling Hunter (one of the most influential and important jazz guitarists of this generation) and Logic (a turntable master widely known as the "unofficial fourth member" of Medeski, Martin and Wood) to stage as your "friends" is not often experienced by bands like AGP, who are still in the process of establishing their reputation. It was an honor not only to the grateful band members of AGP, but also to the unsuspecting audience.

Hunter, who is famous for playing a eight-string guitar (three bass strings and five guitar strings), is a jazz musician who strives to not only spread his own music, but also increase appreciation for jazz in general by not pigeonholing his audience. Because he relies heavily on his rhythm section and blends jazz with other popular musical genres (he produced an entire cover album of Bob Marley's "Natty Dread" and even covered a Kurt Cobain song on his first Blue Note Records release), Hunter sees himself as a link for his generation to jazz, a genre that they might otherwise consider exclusive.

After opening a show for saxophonist Kenny Garrett at the Flynn Center, Hunter and his musical entourage cruised over to the Higher Ground looking to ride their night out a little longer. They asked AGP if they could join them on stage. DJ Logic, having played a free outdoor festival at the University of Vermont (where he was joined by Phish keyboardist Page McConnell) also wanted in on the action. Humbled, honored and, perhaps more than anything, surprised, AGP accommodated their distinguished guests without hesitation.

Accompanying Hunter (who borrowed McGinn's six-string guitar in place of his trademark eight-string) were his band members, John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone and Gregoire Maret on chromatic harmonica. They, along with DJ Logic on the turntables, joined AGP for a version of Wayne Shorter's "Mahjong" and then stayed on stage (after being joined by Hunter's drummer Donald Edwards) for a lengthy rendition of Grant Green's "Windjammer."

Despite the potential for musical messiness presented by a dozen musically diverse men on stage together, the collage of musicians performed impressively cleanly together. AGP members took a few steps back and let their guests soak up the spotlight. This is not to say though that AGP stepped back musically. Rather, they managed to hang tightly to the lead of their supposed superiors, proving that they too deserve recognition among the contributors to this funk/jazz sub-genre of jam bands.

As if being able to hang with Charlie Hunter and crew was not evidence enough, reviewer Michael Lello of the Web site commended AGP's ability to translate live talent into an enjoyable album. Citing their 2000 live release Wicked Live as proof, Lello finds it "apparent that AGP aren't just another bunch of college-aged white kids from the Northeast jumping on the jamwagon … They have the chops to play circles around anyone."

After what AGP bassist John Hall dubbed "a 30-minute free for all" with DJ Logic, the AGP crew settled back (but not down) into what they came to Vermont to do: promote their most recent album. Although they pleased longtime fans with some AGP classics, like "Juniper" from their 1998 self-titled release, their mission was mainly to debut their new sound.

AGP departs in a new direction with Allophone, focusing more than ever on vocal tracks and even using a female vocalist for the first time. McGinn said the band appreciated the advantage of having lots of studio time and resources to enhance their sound.

Most notably, these resources presented the opportunity to use multiple instruments (more than they could use live on stage) for overdubbing to create a strong and complex album.

Overdubbing is recording instrument or vocal tracks independently from each other and then layering them over one another, creating a collage of sound more complex than produced by a live performance (or a live recording, like Wicked Live. The track "Breathe" combines the forces of guest DJ Mr.Rourke layering beats over Andrew Keith's drums while keyboardist Rob Marscher adds a bass line from a keybass, producing sounds lower than his performance keyboards could reach.

The result is the tightly recorded fusion of funk AGP fans have come to expect and a relatively new level of polish on the production front.

By perfecting their sound to a high gloss, Addison Groove Project is aggressively pursuing the leaders of the funk scene and, in the act, distancing themselves from the messy improvisations sometimes associated with jam bands.

If you are not convinced, check out the AGP's Web site: