Round Hill Records [Digital release date 08.05.20]
I have to declare at the outset that I have a soft spot for jazz funk. After a decade of prog and classic rock buying, in the late-1970s and 1980s I turned my allegiance to the genre that mixed soul and jazz, even better if it fused soul, jazz and rock. We are thankfully a broad church here at GRTR! and I can still occasionally indulge myself.
Lettuce are like a modern vision of that halcyon late 1970s period which offered up bands such as Brecker Brothers and Spyrogyra. An era before “smooth jazz” knocked the stuffing out of the genre and things became a bit more bland.
Their brand of jazz funk is underpinned by an appealing rhythm and blues groove putting them closer to The Meters. The album is the perfect antidote to lockdown and if in a normal summer would be an essential soundtrack. Perhaps it still is.
Opener ‘Blaze’ is quite wonderful, an insistent funk groove peppered by fizzy horns and underscored by a warm Hammond which percolates throughout the album. ‘Good Morning Mr Shmink’ continues the infectious vibe led more by keyboards.
A decent tune isn’t subjugated to the groove and Lettuce offer up ‘Silence Is Golden’ by way of example. ‘Moksha’ introduces an Indian raga flavour, like a funked out Mahavishnu Orchestra but still maintaining the trade mark Lettuce groove.
The only diversions for lovers of old school jazz funk are the semi-hip-hop ‘Checker Wrecker’ (one of two vocal tracks) and the more psychedelic ‘Moksha’ but they are still compulsive listening.
The approach isn’t dissimilar to another jazz funk must-have – SHOB and Solide – reviewed in 2019. The album will also appeal to those who sought out Joe Bonamassa’s side-project Rock Candy Funk Party and Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats. And maybe too lovers of the new wave of jazz funk bands such as Phat Phunktion.
The band originally formed after attending Berklee College in the early 1990s and influenced by musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind & Fire (evident here especially on ‘Remember The Children’) and Tower of Power. As you might expect, their consummate musicianship has also contributed to albums by such luminaries as Britney Spears and Stevie Wonder. This is their seventh studio album following 2019′s ‘Elevate’.
This is one of those albums that if you heard it playing in the background in some smart cafe or shop (perhaps as lockdown eases?) you would be holding up your phone with “Shazam” loaded. Eminently danceable. Unquestionably, superb. *****
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.
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