You might be new to the music of a diverse jazz group called Mr. Groove, but in addition to possessing an interesting name they’ve been performing at a consistently high level for two decades, often as the band behind stars like Boots Randolph and vocalist Bonnie Bramlett. They’re also no strangers to the recording studio, and their newest album on the DiamonDisc label, Little Things, is now out and it proves that the band’s name is no idle boast.
The Smith brothers – guitarist Roddy and bassist Tim – are the heart and soul of the group, and soul is something they have in abundance, with many of their tunes definitely bringing in the funk. But this is a musically eclectic group, and they’re not afraid to tackle anything from big-band swing to modern jazz, complete with some nice improvisation.
The brothers have a rich musical heritage – among their relatives is Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith – and their band includes drummer Donnie Marshall, Tim Gordon on sax, and two talented keyboardists, Mark Stallings and Steve Willets. Additionally, they’re joined here by a few skilled sidemen and guest stars, including saxophonist Bill Evans, drummer Billy Ward, and a couple of surprise vocalists.
The mix of songs on the album reflects the diversity of the musicians, and although most of the cuts do have that driving, funky post-bop sound, there are some interesting variations here, including a new take on a Supertramp classic. That would be “Take The Long Way Home,” with guest vocalist Ron Kimball taking the lead and transporting us back to the late 1970’s.
In the same vein, Grand Funk Railroad alumnus Tim Cashion gives us his outstanding interpretation of “Falling Into Place,” a Richard Page song. But the most unique vocal on this album is probably turned in by Darryl Johnson. He takes on the challenging task of performing the Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and provides a very different – but entertaining – experience for listeners.
That track is also the source of some of the best instrumental play on the album, with strong work from the brothers Smith on bass and guitar, but it’s not the only gem on the disk. In fact, instrumental tunes outnumber vocals by a large margin. Some of my favorites include “Venice Wind,” with band veteran Gordon blowing funky sax on a song that’s also the title tune of the band’s first album, and “Hal’s Shuffle,” which includes some outstanding keyboard play from guest organist Pat Coil.
I also enjoyed “Germania Road,” a song that starts slowly with guitar and bass, but ends up with some exciting improvisations from Bill Evans on soprano sax. And finally, “Uncle Tony And Cheese,” which would have to be anybody’s favorite just for its name, but also includes some impressive instrumentation, and that’s really what these guys are all about.
1. Little Things
2. Venice Wind
3. We’ll Be Together
4. Germania Road
5. Hal’s Shuffle
6. Falling Into Place
7. C 100
8. Papa Was a Rolling Stone
9. Snow Day
10. Take the Long Way Home
11. Uncle Tony And Cheese
12. Venice Wind*
13. Papa Was a Rolling Stone*
* Radio edit