I was recently asked to contribute to a DNC week playlist. When I brought it up to my husband after discussing how David Bowie is the patron saint of Plaza-Midwood (you can’t walk into a neighborhood bar or restaurant without hearing him), he suggested Charlotte’s own Groove 8.
If the sound of Charlotte is jazz-funk fusion outfit Groove 8 then we are one cool city.
The band who was originally known as Audioform released its second album, “Curious Poses,” in late June (its fourth if you count its output with Audioform and what incredible cover art).
The first track begins with cool cat vocals spelling out the band’s mission against the backdrop of a trembling, scale-climbing sax. It’s as if the curtains of the smoke-filled VIP room of the underground’s version of Studio 54 just parted. Is that Richard Roundtree?
The second track, “Candles and Incense,” is a more straight-forward come-on and features vocals, which is a rarity for the predominantly instrumental group. So what do they sing about? The kind of night out you might experience hooking up in said smoky dance club circa 1979.
After the vocal segue things get gritty and funky on guitar with big lyrical horns leading the way on “The Stand.” The drama escalates on the title track. The percussion and repeating guitar line in “Time and Place” set the stage for an old-fashioned horn-off (if there’s such a thing). Derrick Bartell’s keys and Keith Whatley and Chris Spivey’s guitars get in on the action too as instruments alternate leads - but those solos don’t go overlong. Whatley seems like such an underrated player and this track in particular gives him room to exercise his inner Hendrix.
The playing is fun and loose, but tasteful. The players never go overboard. Groove 8 always reins its jams back in without getting too showy. There seems to be purpose and the musicians, many of who have been playing together for years, read each other like only seasoned players can. There’s an ease to it all that translates to the audience. It relaxes.
To say its music is cinematic is only touching the surface. The changes, the juxtaposition of squalling electric guitar and punchy horns, the repeating rhythm at the heart of a song, a subtle phrase returning at the right time - all these elements create drama so the listener can create a corresponding mini movie in in their minds (if they're so inclined - I'm a visual listener).
Groove 8 shares an eclectic bill at The Milestone Club Sunday with the Last Good Year, Trinity Seed, and Old Rusty Mandolin. The band also plays NoDa’s Chop Shop September 28. Maybe someone will book them for DNC week as well. Charlotte may be a corporate banking city on the surface, but it’s more than that. And the music of this ethnically diverse, multi-generational band makes a fine representative for what’s cool and unique stirring in the city’s underbelly.