Groove 8 – RPM: Volume 1

 Groove 8 – RPM: Volume 1

Groove 8 – RPM: Volume 1 – EP Review

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – we ALL need some more Funk up in us!

Groove 8 is here to supply.  They had my attention from the moment I saw the band Lettuce in the ‘artists we like’ section of their social media…and much to my delight, we’ve got equal levels of extraordinary character, wild rhythms & grooves, remarkable musicianship, and stunning sound from this band out of Charlotte.  Currently touring around the US wherever great Funk may be found – Groove 8 is out there making the magic happen both onstage and in the studio…and I’m thankful for that.  I can never get enough Funk, Soul, or Jazz music into my day no matter how hard I try…this crew combines all this & more into the expressive songs they’ve got on their new RPM: Volume 1 EP and really delivers powerfully on the artistic depths that instrumentation with personality has to offer.

Not even kidding…the drummer & percussionist of this band never quit – and they start it up immediately on “Time For The Rhythm,” demonstrating some of the strengths of this band right from the drop.  Bring in them talented horns and saxophones, warm keyboard glow adding to the atmosphere, rhythmic low-end bass-lines and wild guitar tones entering the mix, and you’ve got yourself the recipe for what works in Funk – it’s Groove 8 people!  Ain’t just a clever name either – roll call!  You got Keith Whatley (Guitar), Audi Jones (Drums), Victor Hahn (Bass), Antonio Diaz (Percussion), Anthony Ford (Tenor Sax), Tony McCullough (Alto Sax), Will Gleason (Trumpet) and Wil Penson (Keys).  We got everyone?  All eight of ya?  These players all deserve a shout-out for their contributions to this record and to the band’s overall sound.  You can hear instantly through the way that “Time For The Rhythm” is structured and designed that these players all get their moments to shine and no one is ever forgotten.  I’ve often mentioned how tough it can be to represent the wants & needs of an entire band when it comes to writing, playing, recording etc. – but this honestly sounds like a solid example of getting it RIGHT.  Not only do they move like a true unit, even in the wildest or most avant-garde moments – but they really do give each other the space required to stand out when they’re each called upon.  You can hear the unity in the music because you can hear that respect between the players and high standard of trust they have for one another to deliver when taking their turn in the spotlight or solos of each song.  That spark…that instant appeal to the ears…”Time For The Rhythm” comes out swinging with fantastic sounds from all aspects of the band and sets a high standard to live up to for the rest of the songs on the EP right from the get-go.  Spoiler alert – you can hear from the quality of this first rhythm & groove and the in-depth structure they’ve written & performed for just about eight minutes, that they’ll have no problem maintaining the high standards they’re setting or exceeding your expectations, which they will.  And yes, that includes the brilliant final switch that occurs around the six-minute mark of this very tune, proving that even in a track that you’re enjoying already, Groove 8 will find ways to make it even better.

LISTEN to “Pulse” will ya?  Good gravy!  Everyone gets their moment to shine here and the energy in this tune is straight-up magnificently fresh to listen to.  These players not only seriously know how to jam together, but like, listen to the way they structure these songs to deliver maximum entertainment and how well they interact, intersect, complement, and support each other as the songs flow!  I’m continually blown away by this song and how well Antonio and Audi interact with each other…the relationship between the drums and percussion is truly an essential part of the magic in Groove 8.  I also like how the brass ends up driving a lot of the melody on songs like “Pulse” as well…which I think speaks a ton to the intelligence level in this Funk-based crew and their smart approach to their music.  The world is filled with guitar-driven tunes…believe me when I say, it’s quite nice to hear someone else take the lead role for a while, know what I mean?  So while Anthony, Tony, and Will get to drive the engine of a song like “Pulse,” the rest of the players get to cruise right along with it and make extraordinary contributions of their own along the way, without having to necessarily be the glue that holds it all together.  Instead you get excellent accents to the music that provide additional dynamics from the guitars, bass, & keys that get to kind of ‘do what they want’ in a way…they add that creative punch and extra layers surrounding the sax & trumpet sounds that take the imagination & innovation in their tunes that much further.  Love the way the band plays with tempo, pace and timing on the way “Pulse” opens and the fantastically bright personality in the music that takes the starring role from there on.  I also think this particular tune shows a real range of emotions & expression in the music that connects – the kind of song that, were you to pass by a stage with Groove 8 rockin’ this cut, you’d definitely stop to check it out, feel me?  The intricate parts they create are all played with a real loose & inviting vibe that seriously sounds like the celebration of the existence of music itself…really colorful vibes on “Pulse.”  The breakdown around the 4:20 mark of this second tune and the melodic direction it takes is a truly breathtaking moment in this song and on this record…a real stripped-down moment that works wonders to transition “Pulse” into an extremely gorgeous second-half…absolutely stunning to listen to.

You’d have to be made of solid granite stone to not feel the vibe of “RPM” – there really is just this incredible aura of uplifting energy in the music of Groove 8 and you can really feel that coming through on this third cut from the EP.  I also think the world of what Wil Penson comes up with on the keys; not too often where I feel like I can hear something I know my old-man the keyboard player would absolutely love from the choices made to the performance itself, but I bet he’d completely dig what Wil comes up with.  Whether it’s been taking the lead for a ride like he did in the most major transition on “Pulse” or starting off the melody on a song like “RPM” or finding ways to fill in the atmosphere with the right warm organ glow or perfect sound to complement the vibe, he’s been outstanding.  Truly, they all have been though – I start focusing in on the brass or the bass-lines from Victor and I’m easily just as impressed.  No matter which instrument your ears connect with or hone-in on, once you hear the complexity & skill they apply to each part of their own, you can’t help but notice just how much of a difference each one of these eight members makes to the overall results.  “RPM” has dazzling hooks and serves up groove after groove, solo after solo, all tightly wrapped up in a collective sound that stays almost effortlessly together, no matter how adventurous the music ends up becoming.  They shift and transition with tremendous precision…they have the advantage of a ton going on in their music, which yes, would make it tougher to identify a slip or two out of place…but I like to think I’d hear it still if it was truly there.  The facts are, Groove 8 can seriously play and thoroughly entertain…listening to it on a recording is cool enough but I can’t even imagine how awesome it would be to see this band play live.  The beginning of this tune rises until it breaks, revealing a killer groove that’ll fuel the energy forward as this title-tune takes shape…you really can’t take your ears off of what’s happening once “RPM” ticks by its first minute and settles in…from there, it’s smoother-than-smooth entertainment you want to eat by the bowlful.  Highlight saxophone solos on this cut for sure…but again, the vibes all-around from Groove 8 are so immaculately on-point from all angles of their musicianship, anything you pick out is incredible.

The most…hmm…I don’t really want to say less accessible here, because I believe if you dig your Funk & Jazz & Progressive music of all-kinds, you’ll dig the final tune “Diminished” just as much as the rest most likely…but I suppose for those outside of the genre on the regular, this last cut probably asks a bit more from the listener to stick with it.  Conversely, for the dedicated musicians out there – you’ll know that pretty much by default that means there’s more for you to latch onto here, and that the ideas & instrumentation likely reach further than they have already…which I think is fair to say about “Diminished” and there’s certainly nothing wrong with giving the music-heads out there a bit more to chew on.  Even though it’s the shortest tune on the record by at least a minute, it feels like “Diminished” spreads Groove 8 out a little in this slowed-down tempo…which in effect does let us exit from the EP on gentle notes…but I can’t help but wonder what the difference might have been if they had switched up the final two tracks to leave people on a more energized energy…my gut says that might have made more of an impact perhaps and left people with a lasting impression they want to immediately return to.  As it stands, I think “Diminished” is still a really good tune and I can appreciate the other dimensions it reveals in the band’s music overall…maybe a bit sleepy in its energy by comparison to the rest but certainly no less skilled or involved when it comes right down to it, just laid out at a slower pace to absorb.  Kind of the oddity in the set of four, but satisfying nonetheless, “Diminished” sets us all down gently in the sparkling final moments of dreamy sound & flashy cymbals…it might have a different vibe and atmosphere than the rest, but again, it’s definitely just as sincere and passionate of a tune when it comes to how they play it.  They’ve been invested in every moment of this EP throughout its length – RPM: Volume 1 is a wild record to listen to, full of Funk, full of heart, full of skill – and full of good times.

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