On Next's opening track, "Tuesday Night's Squad," the razor-sharp snare snap of drummer Alan Evans is Soulive's most explicit nod to hip-hop, recalling the crisp, distinctive delivery of the Roots' ?uestlove. Preferring a funkier variation on the ?uest theme, Evans emulates the upfront precision of a sequenced drumbeat. Organist Neal Evans, guitarist Eric Krasno, and newcomer alto saxophonist Sam Kininger add to the hip-hop vibe, performing and repeating lockstep phrases of melody that feel like a four-bar sample pulled from some dusty soul-jazz LP. This is jazz that is more hype than hip.
The Roots connection becomes personal a few clicks later on "Snap," a classy hip-hop exercise that features Roots vocalist Black Thought. While on past albums, organist Evans would handle the bass on the lower keys of his B-3, Next introduces a newer, more dynamic bass presence. "Snap" is one of the tracks that benefits from Evans' bass variations, staggering and slipping over a milky Clavinet line.
But before you file Next under "hip-hop," consider Soulive's interpretation of Ani DiFranco's "Joyful Girl" featuring guest vocals by Dave Matthews. While this musical equation seems almost shameless in its crossover conspicuousness, the ballad delivers beautifully, balancing out the predominately upbeat, funky sweat of the rest of the album.
Soulive plays the Variety Playhouse Wed., May 1.