Not quite jazz: MGS blend styles to fine effect

From your very first concert as a young pop/rock fan, you learn that the term “better on CD” is the credo of almost every act of this particular genre. Studio trickery, and the fact that everything from the mics to the sound reflecting/absorbing walls of the recording booth is set up to make a group sound great, can fool your ear into mistaking a group with a catchy tune for the next Beatles.
The jazz genre is a different story, as its followers love to point out-– live jazz performances are almost always better than recorded ones. A master’s thesis could probably be written on why (and probably was in the ‘60s), but inter-performer interactions and jazz’s emphasis on improvisation would factor heavily in the analysis– as well as the sterile nature of most recording studios, so different from the organic feel of live performances.
Jazz’s recordings/live performances (even recorded live performances) relationship is alive and well in the Richmond based jazz/funk/rock group Modern Groove Syndicate. Their self-titled 2001 release is a well-recorded introduction to the group, showcasing their propensity for up-tempo jammy numbers, but it hardly holds a candle to their live CD.
Over the solid platform provided by Joel DeNunzio’s funk-informed jazz drumming and Todd Herrington’s funky slap-bass lines, the other three members of the group lay on a sound that pulses with youthful energy.
Guitarist Frank Jackson does not often break out of the prison many jazz guitarists find themselves in– where sax or piano can go off on tangents of their own, and thereby showcase their players’ talents, jazz guitar is often considered a supporting member of the sound. The songs on which Jackson lets loose standard jazz-guitar sounding chords don’t particularly scream “guitar virtuoso,” but that’s the nature of the beast. On the other hand, when Jackson gets out his wa-wa pedal and funkifies things, his “chicka-chickas” only add to the group’s head-nodding potential.
Daniel Clarke’s keyboards are right on, whether he’s playing a simple piano line or spicing up a tune with jazz flourishes (you know what I’m talking about). His emotive and almost always technically perfect playing is definitely a highlight of the group’s sound, and he is clearly extremely talented at his instrument of choice.
I’ve never been a saxophone kind of guy, but J.C. Kuhl’s usually fairly simple instrumental lines raised my fervor once or twice during the group’s live performance. Most of the time Kuhl concentrates on the song’s main riff and doesn’t drift much into the extended saxophone solos I run from like the plague.
All together, Modern Groove Syndicate provide a sound that’s over-the-top in pleasantness, providing a show that a jazz loving parent could take his pop/rock fan progeny to, in hopes of eventually weaning them onto the hard stuff. Not quite jazz, not quite instrumental funk (and definitely not country), MGS take a little bit of each and call it their own.

Modern Groove Syndicate perform at Outback Lodge, December 20. $5, 10pm.

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