Provogue [Release date 24.02.14]
A few years ago a few stellar musicians got together to explore some funky vibes. This stellar cast included, latterly, none other than Joe Bonamassa and this side-project was to some extent overlooked as Joe wore himself out in London playing four dates/four sets a night in March 2013.
Captured at a small New York jazz club – The Iridium – over three nights in June 2013, this 2-CD/DVD package includes most of the debut album ‘We Want Groove’ plus a few covers from the likes of fusion supremos Miles and Herbie.
This project reminds me a little of the Chad Smith side-project – Bombastic Meatbats – which has yielded a couple of great jazz funk albums. So if you liked those, get this.
Bonamassa seems very comfortable in this setting and what a wonderful diversion from his repurposed and sometimes tired sixties-inspired blues rock. His guitar playing takes its cue from jazz fusion and is quite wonderful and never overstated: it’s subjugated to the groove not the guitar hero.
And it’s very much an ensemble piece with some great playing also from Mike Merrit (bass) and Renato Neto (keys), Tal Bergman (drums), Ron DeJesus (guitar) and Daniel Sadownick (percussion).
The album starts well with the Stevie Wonder Higher Ground-esque ‘Work’ and at times the band touch on Return To Forever territory but arguably with a funkier twist. Herbie Hancock’s classic ‘Headhunters’ vibe is updated, not least on ‘Heartbeat’ (originally on his ‘Man-Child’ album along with ‘Steppin’ In It’), whilst ‘Spaztastic’ moves along at a frenetic pace with a great Neto Rhodes piano breakdown and fluid Bonamassa and DeJesus soloing.
The second CD includes some longer workouts including ‘Ode To Gee’, Weldon Irvine’s ‘Mr Clean’ and ‘One Phone Call’ and retains the consistency of the first disc. Highlights include ‘Dope On A Rope’ with its wonderful pumping rhythm, funk guitar and fine unison playing and the ethereal Lonnie Liston-Smith soundscape of ‘The Best Ten Minutes Of Your Life’ which, based on this reading, may well be.
For those, like me, who missed the debut album last year, this is a great package to play catch-up with, and a bonus DVD includes a 30-minute documentary to put the project in context.
I’m sure hardcore Bonamassa fans won’t like this. For me it’s a breath of fresh air that places the guitarist outside his comfort zone and provides a really welcome respite from his more usual offerings, whether solo, previously with Black Country Communion, or with Beth Hart.
This is an album to dim the lights to, fire up the lava lamp, and luxuriate in the essentially retro and bad-ass vibe. And an album that reminded me why I’ve always had a soft spot for jazz funk: simply well-played, organic music that moves you and, frankly, it doesn’t come much better than this. *****
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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