I hate jambands. My contempt for them is so beautifully pure that it would probably show up on a blood test. Soulive, however, does not wish to be branded as a jamband, and prefer instead to be viewed as a leading force behind the resurgence of innovative jazz ensembles. So, in order to plough through the path of least resistance, I’ll give ’em that one. Soulive is not a jamband — even though they did play Bonnarroo and their music sounds like what I imagine to be my punishment if Hell ends up existing and I end up somewhere near the bottom of the heap. But never mind that — Soulive is not a jamband. With that out of the way, I feel completely free to say that I absolutely abhor Soulive, whose new, eponymously titled live album now sits in front of me and which demands all of my self-restraint not to melt into a cube.
I’ll admit it: I am not a jazz connoisseur. However, I am not completely ignorant — I can tell my Lamonte Young from my Ornette Coleman and my Medeski, Martin, and Wood from a pile of dog vomit (although this, truthfully, is much more difficult). None of this matters, though, because Soulive refuses to relegate itself to any particular genre. Actually, their ears cannot possibly be as finely tuned as they would like us to believe because I have heard countless incarnations of this kind of music. For instance, whenever I step into a hotel elevator I will now be able to identify their immediate influences. So if they refuse to pin themselves to any rack in a record store, where should they be put? I have a perfect solution, which was really the brainchild of my roommate Ezra when, after hearing 20 seconds of this album, he uttered these immortal words: “Attention K-Mart shoppers –“
Every large outlet store should own this album, and not because the music will soothe the stressful shoppers as they rush to the next Blue Light Special, but because it will increase the buying efficiency of every customer. Rather than walking in and languorously contemplating exactly what they had come to purchase, they will quickly become annoyed and briskly maneuver their carts from aisle to aisle so that they can finally reach the register, pay for their items, and then rush out. Obviously this does not seem like a brilliant business strategy at first glance, but that’s the genius of the plan. First of all, the customers cannot possibly complain about the prices because four dollars for a gallon of milk seems reasonable when you have to listen to an endless, aimless wah-wah guitar solo for more than five minutes. The second half of the plan rests solely on the intrusion of the store intercom, which has always annoyed customers by breaking their peaceful routine by shouting promises of great deals in a loud, tinny voice. If the store’s soundtrack was Soulive instead of Celine Dion’s The Color of My Love, I guarantee the patrons would pay attention to any interruption that mercifully stops the music.
I guess I shouldn’t criticize what I just don’t understand, right? Fine, but when I looked at the cover (the best part of the album), the first thing I noticed was guitarist Eric Krasno’s uncanny resemblance to one Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart. In case you’re unfamiliar, Beefheart crafted the most quintessential album of jazz fusion ever unleashed upon the world. Trout Mask Replica’s brilliance lies in its use of space rather than inundating my poor eardrums with Soulive’s scale after redundant scale of uninspired improvisation.
Maybe the problem lies in the format of this album. Although it is a live album, its nine tracks have been culled together from five separate shows. I’ve entertained the notion that maybe if they had released the entirety of one magnificent show, this album would be listenable. But then I listen to “Turn It Out,” “El Ron,” and “Lenny” — all recorded at Irving Plaza — and realize it wouldn’t matter since they all sound the same anyways. Just because the album is monotonous does not mean it is strictly sedating. I tried to fall asleep to this album but after three minutes became so enraged that I had to physically get up out of bed to turn it off, and because my anger dissipated so slowly I couldn’t fall asleep for another half hour. If only there were a K-Mart within walking distance —