THIS MUST surely be one of the most addictive jazz/funk/soul grooves of the year! As a founding member of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters – and having forged, over the years, strong associations with musical dignitaries such as Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, Sonny Rollins and George Benson – California-born Paul Jackson remains one of the most influential and revered electric bass players around.
Now, featuring Xantoné Blacq (keys, vocals) and Tony Match (drums), the seasoned bassist and vocalist brings all of his musical wisdom and showmanship to this trio’s debut release, Groove or Die – and, with a decision on that title choice obvious, the resulting tracklist of ten original numbers becomes increasingly compelling. It’s said that once you’re in the right groove, you don’t wanna come out – and here’s proof from a slick triumvirate whose saturation of sound easily exceeds its number.
Take opener Groove, for example, which is immediately set up with an irresistible major/minor ground for Jackson’s fulsome, gritty voice (imagine an intoxicating blend of Clapton and Tom Jones!) plus solid background harmonies. The bass tempo erupts halfway through, Blacq’s sizzling Rhodes rising magnificently through an electronics forcefield, and Tony Match’s flamboyancy at the kit quite mesmeric. Everything coolly strides the sidewalk to Blacq’s upbeat, loftier-range vocoder lines, Jackson’s bass delivering looping high-fretboard riffs as well as that all-important rasping momentum. Doleful and slow-burning, Pain is curiously reminiscent of late ’70s chart hits such as Float On, though with greater profundity; and the vocalised (almost Methenyesque) instrumental Slick It that follows is compelling in its pithy burst of energy.
African percussion break Nuru precedes a real showstopper of a performance from Xantoné Blacq – What You’re Talkin’ ‘Bout. Unabashedly Stevie Wonder-like in its soulful, molten vocal and animated keyboard approach, the rhythm section’s entrance encourages Blacq to climb to the most astonishing falsetto pitch. And Jackson’s heartfelt crooning in Midnight is a Lonely Heart informs its slow bluesyness, with tightly-meshed background vocals and Blacq’s soaring embellishments adding layer after layer of textures.
Tiptoe Through The Ghetto, introduced by a brilliant Stanley Clarke-like harmonic-bass riff, bustles with impassioned verve. Suggesting, Earth Wind & Fire and Zawinul/Weather Report, the colourful percussive impetus of Tony Match is key to the thrill of it all – and with that seductive Rhodes, it’s got to be a live showstopper. Bringing the album to a close, the wide-open feel-good is confirmed in the jauntiness of People Cry, followed by short, Santana-like bookend, Die.
Some of the stateside vocal lines might initially appear clichéd to an audience this side of the ‘Pond’, but my belief is that it’s all part of the charm of Groove or Die – that and the downright ardent musicality this team exudes. As Match explains: “The trio is like a family; we support each other, we create and share ideas together. I can feel a unique energy and vibration in our music.” And that’s certainly palpable.
Released on 3 November 2014, and launching at The Hideaway, London, on 14 November, visit Whirlwind’s album page for details, videos and samples. Get your groove thang… ohwwwn!
Paul Jackson vocals, electric bass, background vocals
Xantoné Blacq vocals, background vocals, keyboards, talk box, percussion
Tony Match drums, percussion
Whirlwind Recordings – WR4656 (2014)