Soulive have never sounded better than they did in their latest performance at Higher Ground April 17th. Celebrating ten years together‚ the release of a brand new studio album‚ Up Here‚ plus the formation of their own record label (Royal Family) has certainly got the band pumped‚ and their collective excitement is infectious.
Soulive have made fairly regular stops in Vermont over their ten years together‚ with the lineup differing each successive appearance. The current troupe is likewise versatile. For instance‚ The Shady Horns -- saxophonists Ryan Zoidis and Sam Kininger -- always added to the mix‚ either in alternately stately and earthy accompaniment‚ high-spirited solos or‚ in one early exciting moment‚ a dual solo that wasn't a duel but rather a spontaneous expression of genuine excitement: they were as surprised at what had happened as the audience was stoked by it.
That interlude was a harbinger of things to come late in the set when vocalist Nigel Hall -- who had opened the evening with a mercifully short ingratiating solo set at electric piano -- worked in tandem at Neal Evans' keyboards. Moving right to left and trading spaces in increasingly rapid succession‚ the pair got even the sound and light men working for Soulive grinning at this showman like demonstration of musicianly camaraderie. Alone at his keyboards the rest of the evening‚ Evans astounded with the booming depth of his keyboard bass‚ while his consistent use of organ hearkened back to Soulive's earliest days‚ long before they began their increasing fascination with R&B and soul music that continues to this day.
The moments the three-man Soulive inhabited the stage by themselves was worth the price of admission as it too recalled times past (in a positive manner). Alan Evans impressed throughout the evening with the bounce of his drumming‚ and he never hammered harder at his kit than during close to twenty minutes of extended instrumental improvisation on "Steppin'"; at the same time‚ guitarist Eric Krasno demonstrated how dramatically he's developed as an instrumentalist over the years: commanding a readily recognizable tone. Krasno applies the streamlined polish of an expert jazz player to the true grit of rhythm and blues.
Curtis Mayfield would be proud‚ and not just because Soulive did such a rousing cover of "Move on Up." Maintaining their roots in jazz‚ expanding upon them into the accessibility of soul music‚ proffering their wares independently to music lovers the likes of which embraced the band and their sound (not to mention their merch)‚ the group have become the definition of healthy ambition and growth. And because both virtues nurture a constantly self-renewing audience like the one that enlivened the Ballroom to start this spring weekend‚ it certainly doesn't get much better than this...