It’s almost guaranteed that if Derrick Freeman’s name is on it, there’s going to be some funk involved. Sure enough, the drummer is rhythmically, vocally and attitude-wise up to that standard teamed with saxophonist James Martin on Soul.
First, a little clarification. Freeman leads the group the Soul Brass Band of which Martin is a member. It is a kissin’ cousin to the ensemble the duo put together for this recording. Many of the musicians heard here also play with the brass ensemble and the Soul Brass Band is featured on two cuts on the new disc. Got it?
The album begins strongly with an original number, “Something’s Gotta Give,” penned by Martin, who is also featured on vocals. It’s a soul groove of a tune with smartly written, catchy and memorable lyrics. It’s easy to imagine a crowd singing along with the refrain. Nigel Hall mans the big B-3 organ and trumpeter Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown and trombonist Michael Watson add the essential horn punch with Martin getting down on the solo.
Funkier is the James Brown meets George Clinton dynamic of “Soul with a Capitol S,” which Freeman’s gritty vocals take to another zone. It features the brass band, which means it blossoms from the bottom with the sousaphone of Steven Glenn. Freeman is absolutely hilarious on his one-of-a-kind “Grandma Cunningham”—hear it to believe it. He and Arsene Delay make for an interesting vocal combination on “Maintain Composure.”
Things become a bit more sober on Kurt Cobain’s “Bloom” and the album’s mood changes again on the romantically inclined “Flow.” It highlights the warm voice of trombonist Michael Watson and more sophisticated horn arrangements.
There could be some scratching of heads trying to figure out the reason these guys closed the album with Lou Rawls’ ditty “Groovy People” and the instrumental “Family Feud”—yes, the theme from the television game show. Guess you just have to get the sense of humor that, along with solid musicianship, remains a prevailing essence of Soul.