Back in the mid to late nineties, jam bands ruled the concert circuit -- even the airwaves! This retro movement merged
musical improvisation with dance beats, much the same as sixties bands The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane,
Santana, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Hailing from Portchester, NY, Funky Espresso created mostly instrumental,
hipnotic, modal, dance grooves built on the propulsive bass lines of Larry Forrest and drummer Larry Passerelli.
Brother L.J. Passerelli sang lead vocals and Dareen Stec provided horns and keyboards.
According to Mr. Forrest, the group went into the studio in late 1998 with the idea that each track be built off a simple,
mostly spontaneous, improvised groove. Most cuts on "Soul A Rised" begin with either a bass or rhythm guitar
riff and slowly build to a swirling, explosive climax filled with repeated, intertwining guitar, horn, and/or keyboard lines.
"Stutter Step," "Peanut Butter Groove," and "Buck Twenty-Five" represent the funkiest of the grooves.
"Jaco's Revenge" evokes a steaming, Santanaesque jam. But Funky Espresso also takes time express its mellower, more sophisticated side.
"Good Yourself" finds the group in a laid back, almost jazz-like state. "Hello Sao Paulo" features a haunting flute melody
over a latin jazz background. "City Walks"
ups the ante with its harmonically advanced chord changes laid over an "r&b" beat. Out of nowhere, like the best of suprises,
the guitar solos over a swing beat before switching back to the original rhythm.
The album features one full-fledged, traditional, vocal cut -- "Collectively Alone" -- which registers in
my ears as a certifiable hit (that unfortunately never was). A wistful romantic ballad about love lost, the bitter
sweet chord progression lingers as it haunts. Another rock-funk vocal highlight also features a rap. And it directly
relates to my neighborhood -- "ZIP 10603." I won't give away the secret. Just ask Larry Forrest about work! Taking a
page from "Abbey Road," the album closes with an unlisted, uptempo fifties style rockabilly number -- very similar to
the Dead's version of "Love Light." Boy do they rock!
All in all, Funky Espresso represents the best of the jam band wave. Their extensive musical background combined
with their deep, subterranean grooves made them a concert favorite -- opening up for the likes of Maceo Parker,
Deep Banana Blackout, and Galactic. Though I never saw them, I can just picture the swirling dancers. These guys offer the complete package --
groove, melody, and improvisation. Let's hope that their breakup turns out to be nothing more than a brief hiatus on
their rise to the top!