Some bands have exactly the right name. It may not be the wittiest, and it may not be particularly sly, but a name can, with absolute perfection, provide a listener with precisely what the band is all about. For the New York-based trip-hop/jazz/funk band Groove Collective, a more fitting name does not exist.
Groove, —n., an enjoyable time or experience. Collective, —n., a group or organization. First, “Groove.” Yep, this band grooves. Whether it be a ’70s-sounding power-funk jam like “Some People,” or a Cubanisimo-sounding bit of tight horns and percussion called “Sabrosona,” this party of 14 is capable of providing “an enjoyable time or experience.”
Which brings us to “Collective.” Yes, this is a collective. Fourteen musicians had their fingers in the band’s latest album, Declassified. That doesn’t mean that we’ll see more than a dozen people standing sardine-style on the stage at The Ritz when they come to town. A huge jazz posse contributed to Declassified, but, thankfully for those of us who don’t groove on over-crowded sounds, many of them were just guests.
The Collective itself has been together for a long time, splitting genres and creating new styles as they jam away. Rolling Stone magazine credits Groove Collective with being one of the first bands to intermingle rap and jazz into a cohesive package.
These guys have been making music since the early ’90s, and have opened for the ultimate funk master, James Brown, toured with the Dave Matthews Band, played on MTV, and backed musicians as diverse as Tupac Shakur and Natalie Merchant. This ability to play so many different flavors of music is something the band has been recently focusing on.
Indeed, their musical mission is to remove barriers, and, according to the band’s website (www.groovecollective.com), to destroy “forced separations between musical styles, cultures [and] social classes.” Declassified, which was released in late 1999, is the culmination of this attempt to transcend definition as a soul or hip-hop band. On this album they combine over-the-top African hand-drumming with trance-like hip-hop and tight, jazzy horns to create a genre unto itself. In fact, they consider much of their music to be in an as-of-yet-unnamed category.
The album itself begins with a track called “Up All Night.” This soulful track with a jammin’ disco/funk bassline features the buttery vocals of Lucy Woodward. And it flows smoothly into an old school funk track called “Everything is Changing.” Blistering horns and a fine keyboard solo make this track another one of the album’s finest.
After the first two tracks, the band’s versatility begins to shine as they dabble in just about every genre imaginable. Next you hear a soulful rap ballad, then an Afro-house tune with seemingly acid-inspired steel drums thumping away, then a trippy, reverb-saturated falsetto cover of McCartney and Lennon’s “Martha My Dear.” While in some places Declassified sounds almost like a compilation album, the good news is that it includes “Sabrosona,” an live-sounding Afro-Cuban inspiration that is enough to convince you that the Groove Collective’s strong point is what they dial out in front of masses of people. Indeed, the Groove Collective is known for their ability to turn the place out.
See how the Collective Grooves on Monday, March 20 at The Ritz. Tickets are $7.