The streets of jazz/funk have flooded. The modern inception of the genre first drew attention in the early ’90s when Manhattan’s Medeski Martin and Wood began composing funk-heavy grooves dressed with jazz instruments and improvisation techniques. Quickly, as West Coast pioneers such as The Greyboy Allstars fell in line, the back-alley urban fans of jazz and groove became addicted, and now found themselves rubbing shoulders with the legions of spinning, barefoot followers of the jam-band scene (in the grip of its own boom), who were also attracted to jazz/funk’s free-swinging style.
Since then, jazz/funk acts have arrived in seemingly Biblical proportions. While it’s easy to hear the saturation in the current market, Brendan McGinn (guitar, trumpet, vocals) of Boston’s Addison Groove Project (AGP) presses on undeterred, his band resting confidently on the strength of its own distinct flavor of funk.
“It’s definitely crowded,” McGinn said from his Wellesley, Mass. home. “For that reason, we never felt a need to invade [the jazz/funk genre] too much. We don’t rely on funk grooves, but try to dip into elements of rock and fusion and hip-hop. We try to take more time with our music, to infuse more formats.”
Admittedly, I listen to up-and-coming jazz/funk groups with the same enthusiasm I give to washing the dishes, forever frustrated to find any splinters of originality. However, AGP has built on the strength of their live shows and a strong new album (their second studio record, the self-released allophone) to force their way toward the front of the jazz/funk line while drawing some critical acclaim. Even I found myself impressed by the band’s long-built instrumentation and familiarity, their strong hip-hop flavor and, of course, the butt-shaking vibe.
Performing together since middle school, AGP’s five members won a battle-of-the-bands contest and then recruited the keyboard player of the second-place act, rounding out the current lineup that’s yet to endure even the first change. That kind of friendship and familiarity, McGinn asserts, allows AGP a huge advantage.
“That’s our foundation. I mean, we grew up together drinking beer by the bridge. We know never to take things too seriously and it’s made it so enjoyable. The professional aspects of what we do never invades our friendship, and if it did, sacrificing that friendship would never be worth it,” he maintains.
The band’s first major career decision came once they graduated high school, when, after heavy deliberation, they opted to attend separate New England colleges instead of launching a full-time schedule of touring and recording. Since, McGinn and tenor saxophonist Ben Groppe have graduated, and next May the entire band will finally be free of their scholastic commitments.
“It was brutal,” says McGinn about having to cram for finals and write late-night papers when he knew he could be touring the country and playing music with his best friends. “Definitely, especially toward the end. Life is such a weird dichotomy. There would be parties and football games I’d want to go to, the standard college things, you know, but then I would have to leave all that behind and go play when I would have wanted to just stay and chill. But then, when we were out on the road, all I would want to do is keep playing.”
On stage, AGP relies on a supplemental form of energy to separate standard shows from the special ones. “The crowd is the best thing. It doesn’t have to be huge. Even if there are only 100 people there, as long as they’re all getting off, it’s heaven. Guys on stage will be doing things nobody thought they could. Then, in a dead room, you’ll ask yourself, ‘Why am I here?’ The audience makes the show, and when they do, they get our best as well,” McGinn says.
allophone, he declares, is AGP’s “grown-up” statement, and the band stands poised to ride its strength into their new, post-college, career-minded phase.
“Our first record was more like a high-school senior project,” he laughs. “Comparing the two [albums] is like apples and oranges. In four years for us, there have been so many changes. The difference between 18 and 22 just seems bigger than say … 30 to 34. We wanted to make an interesting record, using analog techniques, something that would be very hard to listen to and categorize.”
A thick hip-hop influence can be heard throughout allophone, from the turntables interspersed among the horn swells and jazz-guitar runs to the funky subway-scene painting on the album’s cover. McGinn attributes the music’s presence to a complete infiltration of hip-hop among contemporary pop culture.
“It’s so accessible,” he says. “It dominates pop music. It’s selling records now like rock ‘n’ roll used to. It’s feel-good music. It [jazz/funk and hip-hop] is a natural marriage, people vibe to it.”
Although it can also be traced to a larger phenomenon — a massive musical cross-pollination. “Now, it’s not even just among jazz and funk and jam bands,” he concedes. “It’s a marriage of every style. Everyone takes something from everyone else.”