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Melvin Sparks: Live at Nectar’s

June 23, 2017

A translation of the live music experience to a recorded format often loses the jazz that makes the listening audience jive, but this one keeps it going. Celebrating that incredible connection between us all, One Night Records has released Live at Nectar’s, capturing the work of jazz guitar genius Melvin Sparks just months before his passing. This performance from the sixty-four year old guitarist became his final legacy to his fans.

The idea of jazz guitar came about in the 1930s as a result of amplification helping guitars to be heard over the full sound of big bands. This humble birth blasted forward with a sound that electrified audiences. At twenty years old, Sparks had a career that began with the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye; this connection to soul is apparent to new listeners and fans alike. The nine song album (including two tracks available here only) is a lifetime of jazz soul. Produced and mixed by Eddie Roberts with release curation by Simon Allen (both of The New Mastersounds), Live at Nectar’s is issued for the first time in limited edition vinyl.

At the venue’s recommendation, two variables were thrown into the mix: Dave Grippo on alto saxophone and Brian McCarthy on tenor saxophone (known as The Grippo Horns). This spark thrown into the musical amalgamate that  included organist Beau Sasser and drummer Bill Carbone, creating a true vibe of unpredictability for the music ahead. This group of musicians spans generations, a beautiful fact that is lost in the translation to multi-track tape to all but the most diehard of jazz fans. But because of their huge amount of experience, the outfit’s loving attention to detail puts listeners in the room, every nuance soaring in twisting spirals of melody.

Jazz is fluid and builds off of each piece of the puzzle to create. Songs like “Miss Riverside” show a flair for the solo work that came later in the evolution of the genre. But the brilliant thing here is the fact that the set is sprinkled with covers of well known songs. The band breathes new life into “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got).” Standards like “Breezin’” are here for listeners, as Sparks illustrates the life in each note of guitarwork, be it intricate or subtle. All the guitarwork is purposefully defying the definition of jazz as a free musical style with no set rules of performance.

“Whip! Whop!” is a bit of genius that effortlessly fuses together bits of funk, jazz, blues, and classical quips of music seamlessly. A bit of this treasure is the fact that Melvin Sparks and the audience interact here, a true live album. “Cranberry Sunshine” hits that cool vibe that makes the guitarist so great; subtle yet intricate it is the best of what jazz is.

Texas-born Melvin Sparks was brought up on rhythm & blues. Those influences infiltrate his guitar style on songs like “Fire Eater,” throwing in a toe tapping groove. “Hot Dog” and “Thank You” are only available on the album, songs that brilliantly fuse funk and soul into an uptempo party. These two are a fitting way to head out of an album, produced by artists in Allen and Roberts, who honor the talent that has gone before their own. —Lisa Whealy

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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