Soulive has never allowed itself to stagnate. From the group's inception in the model of the classic organ trio‚ guitarist Eric Krasno‚ drummer Alan Evans and keyboardist Neal Evans quickly pushed past the suit-and-tie traditionalism‚ going on to record with Fred Wesley of the JB's‚ tour with a revue that included turntablists and multiple vocalists and then courted the mainstream with a succession of singers‚ all the while mixing up their live shows with regular guests to keep themselves and their audience fresh‚ before a return to their three piece roots in 2009.
It was at this very point though that the band sought diversified avenues of expression outside the group. Guitarist Eric Krasno and keyboardist Neal Evans revived their Boston-born funk ensemble Lettuce‚ before proceeding on to their own solo projects (Kras' Reminisce is superb) and now drummer Alan Evans has formed his own trio‚ while sibling Neal has completed his solo work. Meanwhile‚ Soulive continues a healthy retrenchment‚ begun with Up Here and continued with an album of Beatles covers Rubber Soulive‚ by initiating collaboration with the similarly adventurous Karl Denson.
An act of loving homage to late guitarist Melvin Sparks‚ the first notes this mini-album begin the process of eliciting the truth from the cliché 'marriage made in heaven.' Though saxophonist/flutist Denson is the only one to have played with Sparks -- beginning with a tour where the late guitarist opened for The Grey Boy Allstars in 1994 -- all four musicians display an emotional as well as conceptual investment in the woefully abbreviated recording (it's only thirty-five minutes plus).
Conceived in the mold of Creed Taylor's CTI template of the 1970's‚ the musicianship manages to capture the silky sheen of those productions‚ particularly on "Nubian Lady‚" with arrangements that retain a lean simplicity. On the stylish "Soulsides‚" Neal Evans confines himself to just piano and organ‚ while his sibling's drums sound big because he plays so hard. The sole original here gives the project its title‚ during which the restraint Alan demonstrates is in sharp contrast to the crackling abandon Krasno displays on "Povo." Recorded with a minimum of overdubs‚ Spark represents a stolen moment of deep simpatico between Soulive and Karl Denson.
Drop Hop‚ the first recording of The Alan Evan's Trio‚ which includes guitarist Danny Mayer and keyboardist Beau Sasser‚ isn't quite so pure in its concept or execution. Hearkening to the latter-day Soulive efforts on the Concord/Stax imprimatur‚ vocals such as the falsetto tones on "Everyone's Gone" add to the R&B/soul elements here‚ but the singing on the title song unnecessarily intrudes on the guitar/keyboard/drum axis at the core of this band's attraction‚ best displayed during "Check Your Lugnuts."
Such taut interaction reappears on keyboardist Neal Evans' BANG. And that's no small accomplishment‚ considering this is a true solo album‚ written and recorded over a period of years. While some cuts‚ the ruminative "Odds Against" and the celebratory "Shake Down‚" may at first sound like nothing so much as demos‚ there's a palpably cinematic quality to the music (reminiscent of the keyboardist's soundtrack work for HBO) that reaffirms Neal Evans' contributions to his other projects are greater than readily apparent.
Soulive now spend more time away from each other than various other engagements‚ but that freedom ultimately strengthens their bond. Based on these three Royal Family Recordings (available in digital and vinyl formats but no CD)‚ the whole of that trio remains far greater than the sum of its parts.