Soul Food

“There’s a little trickle of soul music being cool again,” notes Asheville-based recording artist Jar-e. And then a sentiment that would make Groucho Marx proud: “Everyone’s going to be doing it and I’ll have to do something else.”

Slim, with the tilted brim: Jar-e ponders the future of soul music … and the meaning of his name.

The singer, songwriter and keyboardist proved with his first two albums (Heartache and War Songs and the Muse) that he can do something other than soul. An eclectic mix of samples, Latin influences and jazz nuances earn Jar-e both respect from his peers and label interest (he’s signed with Exotic Recordings).

But what the musician has in store for his next disc is a richly layered, retro-styled, Motown-flavored soul album. With rhythm, horn and a strings sections, the vision is a wall-of-sound album Jar-e describes as (ironically) stripped down.

Think Otis Redding and Carla Thomas singing a duet in the decades before stereo sound. Think back-up singers and orchestrated compositions recorded in a single live take. That’s the kind of sample-free, low-tech effect Jar-e is dreaming up.

“I can’t wait to record it,” he enthuses, joking, “once I convince Echo Mountain to let me do it for free.”

Anyone who’s caught one of Jar-e’s recent shows—lush with keys, horns and lyrically emotive vocals—can vouch for the performers’ uncanny skill at distilling the best of vintage Motown and finishing it with tasteful, modern touches.

While waiting for the right time to go into the studio, the musician keeps busy collaborating with other local artists. “I’ve been trying to play with all the people I really like,” he says. “I try to play with people who really get my goose.”

Yes, Jar-e possess the sort of unapologetic cool that means he can wear both trucker caps and dangerously angled fedoras while spouting lines like “get my goose.”

“As far as improv with Stephanie [Morgan, at a recent Stella Blue show],” he continues, “she blew me away. I love improv.”

Jar-e came to Asheville from Norfolk, Va. to go to Warren Wilson College. Born Jon Reid, he took on his hyphenated moniker for poetic reasons illustrated in his rap: “They call me e/ that’s empty/ that’s every/ that’s eager/ that’s easy/ that’s effort/ that’s eat me … endless ever-change/ every style/ every name … i am him/ slim with the tilted brim/ you know you know him.”

Got it?

His quartet was known, briefly, as North of Cuba, but the musician prefers being a solo performer with regular contributors, like Iron & Wine (the brainchild of singer-songwriter Sam Beam) or Sparklehorse (led by multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous). “But it’s not just about me, Jon Reid,” the musician insists. “It’s about the creative life I’ve experienced. It’s easy for me to be really generous with my creative vision when I have the buffer of knowing it’s my own thing.”

The creative life of Jar-e seems the stuff of a sunlight-drenched indie movie. As early as age 10, his grades suffered as he turned his attention to song-writing. On a canoe trip with his older brother, Jar-e discovered Irish soul troubadour Van Morrison. He while in Europe, he cancelled other travel plans to remain in Granada and catch Morrison in concert. He speaks multiple languages and has journeyed through Mexico, Greece and Britain. Days before talking to Xpress, he took a spur-of-the-moment cross-country road trip to L.A.—just because.

Though Jar-e likes to be at the helm, band-wise, as his free-spirited wanderings indicate, he’s hardly a dictator. “I’ve played as a backup musician to other performers who have everything arranged ‘to a T,’’” he points out. He’s no stickler for arrangements; he simply asks that his cohorts are “listening and have their own heart they bring to it.”

Which harkens back to improv. It’s how his quartet got their start, and something he still likes to break out on stage. “But I use the word grooving instead of jamming,” the musician says. “I’m trying to never fall into the jam band category.”

With the horns, the self-exploratory rap, the retro Motown sound and the distinctly nonjam band following, that’s probably one concern Jar-e won’t need to lose any sleep over.

who: Jar-E with Angi West
what: Modern soul
where: Emerald Lounge
when: Thursday, Nov. 8 (10 p.m., 232-4372)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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