July 13, 2024

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CD review: Something Else! featuring Vincent Herring – Soul Jazz – 2024: Video, CD cover

Soul jazz supergroup Something Else!, led by alto sax master Vincent Herring, revisits the vital, funky grooves of an unforgettable era. The all-star band’s groove-driven debut features Jeremy Pelt, Wayne Escoffery, Paul Bollenback, David Kikoski, Essiet Essiet and Otis Brown III.

When soul jazz was born in the early 1960s, it provided a pathway for the funky, window-rattling grooves of contemporary soul and R&B to infuse the muscular hard bop of the day. For the generation that grew up in that era, soul jazz is the soundtrack of their lives – not to mention an absolute blast to play.

The new supergroup Something Else! brings together a superb septet that matches impeccable virtuosity with a bottomless feel for this music. Spearheaded by alto saxophone great Vincent Herring, the band’s debut release features trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, guitarist Paul Bollenback, pianist David Kikoski, bassist Essiet Essiet, and drummer Otis Brown III.

Under the no-nonsense title of Soul Jazz, due out June 7 via Smoke Sessions Records, the album features groove-centric tunes from such masters as Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Donald Byrd, Stanley Turrentine, Eddie Harris, Pee Wee Ellis, and John Coltrane, played with infectious vitality by this unparalleled dream band.

The approach to jazz that these stellar musicians take always comes with its fair share of soul, no matter the stylistic twists and turns it may take. But with Something Else! they places the soul firmly the spotlight, refreshing this classic material with a thrilling, vibrant joy that is electrifying conveyed directly into the listener’s body. Soul Jazz comes with an unspoken challenge not to move.

“This project represents the music that we love, music that just feels great,” Herring says. “Everybody in the band grew up on soul jazz, where the feeling was paramount. The music of the day was soul and R&B – that’s what my parents played on the stereo when they were in the car or when they would have gatherings. So I think it’s a feeling that we were all craving in our own music.”

Herring found that electrifying feeling missing in much of the music he was hearing from his students at William Paterson University and the Manhattan School of Music, which inspired him to put out the call to his most gifted compatriots. Herring had learned first-hand from masters of feeling, swing and groove – an invaluable bandstand education forged alongside the legendary likes of Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Jack DeJohnette, Horace Silver, Carla Bley, Lionel Hampton and others, as well as integral collaborations with fellow torchbearers like Steve Turre, Carl Allen, Eric Alexander, Jon Faddis, Wynton Marsalis and James Carter.

The band’s name, of course, is borrowed from Somethin’ Else, the classic 1958 Cannonball Adderley album. Adderley and his brother Nat can both be counted among the architects of soul jazz, and Herring enjoyed deep ties to both – he toured and recorded for nearly a decade with Nat Adderley following his brother’s death, and went on to form the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band with drummer Louis Hayes.

The Adderleys are not among the composers included on Soul Jazz, however – unless you count a sly quote of Nat’s immortal “Work Song” during the drum solo on Turrentine’s “Too Blue” – and Something Else! can just as readily be taken as a descriptor of the music, a phrase along the lines of “out of this world” that hails the surprises and thrills contained herein.

The album kicks in at full throttle with Horace Silver’s bristling anthem “Filthy McNasty,” played here with a breakneck propulsion driven by the take-no-prisoners pocket of Essiet and Brown. Herring, Pelt, Escoffery, Kikoski and Brown all squeeze fiery solos into the track’s less than five-minute length, wasting not a single note (though burning through plenty of them) and revealing from the get-go that they mean business.

This music represents the members’ musical roots, and Herring chose his collaborators – and a rotating cast that has also included the likes of James Carter and Randy Brecker – from a pool of shared experience. “This is about having a feeling for what’s going on,” he explains. “The first person that came to mind was Jeremy Pelt. This music is Jeremy – this is exactly how he grew up. While the spectrum of music that he plays is wide, this is at the core of what he does. The same goes for everybody in the band.”

Just listen to the way that the blues seeps from Kikoski’s keyboard in the opening moments of “Too Blue,” as the band slides into a gritty, slinky groove. Bollenback’s guitar slithers through that wide-hipped feel before ceding space to high-and-low turns from the saxes. Eddie Harris’ “Mean Greens” provides the opportunity for a lurching shuffle, punctuated by Kikoski’s piquant jabs and the precision licks of the frontline, while Pee Wee Ellis’ “The Chicken” is pure funk bliss buoyed by Essiet’s double-wide bassline.

Herbie Hancock’s “Driftin’” floats on an airy, floating rhythm that is spacious yet exacting rhythmic swing that the soloists all revel in. The mood turns dark and languorous for Donald Byrd’s unhurried “Slow Drag,” then crackles with the handclap-fueled stroll of Roy Hargrove’s classic “Strasbourg/St. Denis.” CD and digital editions of the album feature an unexpected bonus track: John Coltrane’s “Naima” is a timeless ballad not typically associated with the soul jazz movement, but Herring’s transformative version fits perfectly.

Herring insists that Something Else! wasn’t formed with the intention of educating that younger generation on how thrilling the music can feel – but if he can lead by example, he says, all the better.

“This is just meant to be great music that feels good, played by the very best musicians. If it is enlightening to some people, which I’m sure it will be, then that’s fine with me.”

It’s hard to imagine that this session won’t enlighten listeners, even those well versed in the soul jazz genre that grew out of hard bop in the mid-1950s, as the influence of the era’s R&B and soul hitmakers infused the music with a funky, raucous groove. Something Else! not only stocks the date with some of the prime examples of the genre’s music, but attacks these songs with a vigor and passion that breathes dynamic new life into an already lively style.

1 Filthy McNasty 04:56
2 Too Blue 07:55
3 Mean Greens 04:05
4 The Chicken 04:57
5 Driftin’ 07:05
6 Slow Drag 07:23
7 Strasbourg/St. Denis 05:34
8 Naima (Bonus Track) 08:57

Vincent Herring – alto saxophone
Jeremy Pelt – trumpet
Wayne Escoffery – tenor saxophone
Paul Bollenback – guitar
David Kikoski – piano
Essiet Essiet – bass
Otis Brown III – drums

Something Else!; Vincent Herring, Soul Jazz (feat. Vincent Herring) in  High-Resolution Audio - ProStudioMasters

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