You know what Vermont needs more of? Funk bands! . . . OK, I’m completely messin’ with you. In fact, the last thing we need here in the land of the free jams and the home of bravely derivative noodle nonsense is another rock-blues-soul-jazz-hip-hop musical whatchamacallit. Just because you have a wah pedal and a Rhodes organ doesn’t entitle you to ramble on for an hour and a half and only play four songs. I don’t make the rules, people. I just enforce ’em. The one and only exception is if you’re really, really good. Or, maybe if you’re dying and the Make-A-Wish Foundation grants your wish to totally jam out, bro’. Maybe.
With their debut album, Illharmonic, Montréal’s New Groove Orchestra prove they might just be that funkdefying exception — the first one, just to clarify.
Created in 2005 by members of McGill University’s renowned jazz program, NGO is a sprawling 10-piece ensemble — or “orchestra” — featuring topnotch players from all over the world, including Vermont. Sax player and co-founder Nathaniel Marro is a product of Rut-Vegas, baby! That would be Rutland, for the flatlanders.
The band doesn’t necessarily break the mold when it comes to song structure or arrangements. But the difference between NGO and your average college funk outfit is that these cats can seriously play. The rhythm section consistently lays down airtight grooves throughout the record. In particular, bassist Matt Powell drops some of the slinkiest lines this side of vocalist Meghan Patrick’s mini-skirt. Uh-oh. Did I think that or type it? Hoo-boy!
Speaking of Patrick, the sultry front woman is a soul siren. Though lacking the full-bodied voice of say, Sharon Jones or Burlington ex-pat Heloise Williams, the Ontario native has some downright sexy pipes. Despite the relatively thin quality of her timbre, she’s usually more than capable of pulling off expressively engaging performances.
The heart and, um, soul of this band has got to be the horns. With a pair of trumpets, a trombone and two saxophones, their sound is full and well blended. My only real complaint with this disc is that I want more of them. The album’s best moments are when the horns take center stage, delivering nimbly played, forceful lines. Less cowbell. More horns. Got it?
The New Groove Orchestra has the potential to stand out in a cluttered field of sound-alike bands masquerading as originals. If you’ve grown tired of tired funk, check ’em out this Tuesday at Nectar’s.