The smooth jazz that once poured out of an 8-track feels right to Euge Groove

ON POPULAR MUSIC

December 08, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

His last album, 2004's solid Livin' Large, hadn't hit the streets. And Euge Groove was already thinking about what to do next. The smooth-jazz saxophonist was ready to go into the studio and dive into something real and organic. He started feeling nostalgic, longing for the music that excited him in 1976, the year he entered high school.

Back then, Euge dug the pop-glossed jazz of George Benson, who topped the charts in the Bicentennial year with his masterful Breezin'. Barry White and his Love Unlimited Orchestra, Brothers Johnson, Rufus & Chaka Khan -- the artist relished their sounds on 45s and eight-track tapes. Euge, whose real name is Steve Grove, wanted to get back to that "something" he heard in the funk and pop of '76: the playfulness, the thoughtfulness, the funkiness of the arrangements.

So for his latest album, Just Feels Right, he went back in time. Sort of.

"Sometimes you have to go back to basics," says Euge, who's calling from his Los Angeles home. The Narada Jazz recording artist performs at Rams Head Tavern tomorrow night. "My goal was to reinvent what got me into music in the first place: the interaction with the musicians."

For Just Feels Right, he wanted to play with session cats who appeared on numerous albums from the mid-'70s: guitarists Ray Parker Jr. and Tony Maiden (a former member of Rufus), bassist Freddie Washington, drummer Michael White, arranger-keyboardist Clarence McDonald. Euge didn't even want to record with equipment made after 1976. The saxophonist and the seasoned session players settled in at Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood, where the recording engineers used a '70s console to track the album.

"The rhythm section was special," the artist says. "The experience they brought to the session was incredible. I felt like a geeky fan in the studio."

The result doesn't exactly sound like something recorded 30 years ago. It is a smooth-jazz record, so the tunes are heavy on the groove. The arrangements aren't really adventurous. But that's not the point of Just Feels Right -- or anything in smooth jazz, for that matter. What you get is a fluid record, a relaxed 11-song set played expertly and simply. Not a lot of fuss. Perfect music for a free-flowing Saturday afternoon. To suggest a loose feel between the more polished tunes on the album, Euge and producer Paul Brown included interludes of the musicians jamming in the studio.

"The guys added so much life to the music," Euge says. "To pull off a record like this, you have to think of live performance. These guys were doing things -- nuances that were sensitive to the melody. The snippets were raw. It really brought me back to the studio and the vibe. You hear the guys talking and playing."

One of the fun things about listening to Just Feels Right is picking out the musical influences that peek out here and there in the arrangements. "Got Em Goin'," for instance, kicks off with a swaggering drum beat that recalls Barry White's 1973 smash "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby." And "This Must Be for Real" has a string-laden, Latin-tinged rhythm that could have been culled from an old Gamble and Huff production -- perhaps something off the O'Jays' classic '76 LP Message in the Music.

"I think the point of view of making albums now is the single," Euge says. "I wanted to go back to making an album when you weren't afraid to let a song run seven to 10 minutes long. I wanted to let the guys stretch."

Again, there's nothing too retro about Just Feels Right. The point of it was to bring a genuine feel back to the music.

"I hope people gravitate to this record, so that I can make another one," the artist says with a chuckle. "I hope people don't say, `Hey, that's too old. Give us something new.'"

As long as the music has a pulse, folks will groove on it.

See Euge Groove at 7 and 10 tomorrow night Rams Head Tavern, 33 West St. in Annapolis. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit ramsheadtavern.com or call 410-268-4545.)rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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