Lettuce – Fly (2012)

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photo courtesy of Calabro Music Media

Lettuce is funk powerhouse of a supergroup, a rare supergroup where the group was formed before many of its members became “super” from other projects. This instrumental RnB outfit is made up of two-thirds of Soulive (Eric Krasno, guitar; Neal Evans, keys), drummer Adam Deitch (Average White Band, John Scofield), Erick Coomes (Britney Spears, The Game), saxophonist Ryan Zoidis (Rustic Overtones), Adam Smirnoff (Robert Randolph and the Family Band), and trumpeter Rashawn Ross (Dave Matthews Band). The band recently marked a milestone, having formed twenty years ago this year when members of the band were students together at Berklee School Of Music. They didn’t cut their first record until Outta Here in 2001, and have followed that up with Live at Blue Note Tokyo (2003) and Rage! (2008). The band marks the start of its third decade with Fly.

The menu for Fly is the same thing on tap for any Lettuce record: funk songs, mixed in with some funk songs, and for a change of pace, they might toss in a funk song or two. You can cue up this record at the beginning for any get-down party, let it run uninterrupted to the end, and then play it over again, and no party-minded person is ever apt to complain.

Though owing a huge debt to James Brown — what funk music worth a damn doesn’t? — Fly presents a different flavor on nearly every track, avoiding a headlong slide into monotony that have made even the most earnestly funky record get boring after the first few tracks. Consider, in contrast, how Lettuce diversifies its attack: “Fly” eases into the shindig with a spaced out reggae and “Lettsanity” borrows the tempo, chord changes and the sweaty beat from Michael Jackson’s “Working Day And Night,” with Zoidis turning in a sax solo Maceo should be proud of. “Madison Square” (video of live performance below) is fueled by a Phenix Horns (Earth, Wind & Fire) styled arrangement augmented by Brian Thomas (trombone) and Cochemea Gastelum (flute, saxes).

“Slippin’ Into Darkness” pays homage to War directly, covering this 1972 hit. “Bowler” reaches back a little further, to the classic Stax days of the late 60s. For my money, “Ziggowatt,” a tribute to The Meter’s master rhythmist Zigaboo Modeliste, is the album’s peak, reminding me of those staggering, funky pulses the Meters invented back in the day. Nigel Hall adds his soulful vocals to the Tower Of Power-ed “Do It Like You Do.” The one thing these songs all have in common besides being funky is that they are all funky in an organic way; these Berklee boys have the chops to hand make their music the way everyone used to, and nothing here sounds post 1980.

Evocative of party music from decades ago, yes, but sounding fresher than hour-old bread. Lettuce remains well on their game with Fly.

Fly goes on June 5 by Velour Music Group. Visit Lettuce’s website for more info.

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