Saluting Euge Groove, the Fresh Prince of Smooth Jazz

The man’s got a reed, and he knows how to use it.

People who know that I'm way-deep into smooth jazz will often say to me, "Greg, I feel kind of intimidated by the music. Do I start with somebody I know, like that keyboard guy who did the theme from Taxi? Or do I take a chance on something that might sound really foreign and strange?"

To these people I have just two words: Euge Groove. Seriously, if you want to feel some of the real smooth-jazz philosophy, he's the man. What does he sound like? Try this: John Klemmer and Lou Rawls show up at a wife-swap party organized by Creed Taylor at Anita Baker's place where Rufus is the house band playing show tunes by Robin Thicke, poolside. Get the picture? It's like nothing you've ever heard. And then it's kind of like everything you've already heard. In short, you're going to dig it.

You may have guessed that Euge is a stage name. (As is Boney James, of course—I mean, are you kidding me? That guy is James Oppenheim from a mile away. He's about as gentile as Mark Sidran.) Back when he held down the lead tenor chair in Tower of Power (bump ci-tay!), Euge was better known as Steve Eugene Grove, which has all the sex appeal of "Nick Licata." So Euge took on a funkier rubric, and I'd say it suits him to a Booker T.

See, to Euge, size matters, and by that I mean the size of his tone. The man's got a reed, and he knows how to use it. He can be all breathy and seductive, or he can just break out in a hive of licks. He could—if you'll excuse my language, but I feel strongly about this—maul Kenny G's prissy, wispy ass with that "euge" tone of his. You know, I often find that people can't really plug in to the differences among smooth jazz saxophonists. But I suggest if you cue up Euge's cut, "Silhouette" (from his 2004 full-length, Livin' Large), and compare it to Kenny G's 1990 cut of the same name, you'll hear the differences in a heartbeat. I mean, it's like Richard Conlin vs. Tim Ceis—no contest. Come on, Kenny. Yah mo be square.

On Euge's latest, Born 2 Groove (Narada), he tears it up like a Seahawks defensive lineman outside the J&M at closing time. His killer skill, on tracks like "A Summer Night's Dream" and "Mr. Groove," is to set his own horns playing unison riffs behind him; then he starts throwing the solo punches. (Not quite sure how he'll work that live.) Funkify that with some wah-wah guitar, your shimmery synth patches and washes and glissandos and whatnot, a little church-worthy Fender Rhodes commentary, and some sweet pops from my man Cornelius Mims on the bass, and you've got all the ingredients for a night out that will be hot in the pocket and good to go. And no bribing the bouncer required.

music@seattleweekly.com

 
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