Lettuce: "Resonate" Album Review by Chris J. Smith / Edited by Tim Lemon
The infamous sextet returns with another chapter in the book of Lett. Spawning from production maestro Russ Elevado and donning every influence we've come to expect, plus a few less familiar ones, the soulful outfit trudges onward into exciting and uncharted territory on their second venture in less than a year: "Resonate".
These cats are truly the workhorses of the modern funk scene. So much so, in fact, one might question how they keep the mojo going. Is it the allure of a Grammy nomination on "Elevate"? A rush of creativity from working with a seasoned producer like Russ? Possibly some mysterious herbal concoction that Jesus brings to rehearsal? Whatever it is, it's evident that these guys have achieved motivational lockstep while maintaining the type of quality that veteran Lettuce listeners know and love from previous endeavors. Whether it's in a live format like "Witches Brew" or a studio project recorded in Colorado and mixed in New York such as the latest "Resonate", I think their efforts would have Miles Davis, the illustrious composer/nurturer of "Witches Brew" (an album popularly known as "Bitches Brew"), smiling from ear to ear. They are truly fostering not only funk, but the jazz and hip-hop genres in this LP as well. With every release to date, their collective, creative horizons seem to expand exponentially.
Work ethic aside, I truly believe that what we're hearing from them now is a flight plan that's long been in the works. I'm talking as far back as their Berkeley days. What we are experiencing now is a funk factory, if you will, that is primed and ready to continue dropping powerhouse records like a fine tuned, flying, huffing, raging machine. Trace the lineage of the band all the way back to their beginnings and, although they were sporting an entirely different lineup, you will find the very refined, contemporary smooth jazz band on "Outta Here". Now, jumping back to present day, what was once a docile, domesticated jam group has now switched gears into the defining voice of our generation's last stand of truly real music. The house cat has grown an extremely dank mane, so to speak.
As soon as I heard the single "Checker Wrecker" drop, I was incredibly hyped. Featuring D.C. legends Jungle Boogie and Big Tony, the energy of these emcees almost sinks into your marrow, stimulating your backbone and generating ridiculous dance moves with all loss of motor function. It's a classic party, or at least what sounds like one, for, "when the horns blow you better be ready to go." Man, you gotta love that groove!!
"NDUGU" follows up with a contagious rhythm and angelic horn reverberation. The evolution of Lettuce's horn reverbs alone have come leaps and bounds since "Crush". Benny also knocks this solo out of the park like a looping knuckle ball off the bat of the Sultan of Swat. A true, disciplined virtuoso of his instrument with an undeniable swagger, Eric is.
Speaking of swagger, is it possible for "House of Lett" to be a complete surprise yet make complete sense simultaneously? With a rich history of bull-heading pretty much every genre under the sun, the band blurs the lines of sonic capability while providing a cohesive, Lettuce-esque skeleton to everything and simply makes you ask: what next? If they can make bouncy, overly-gratifying, upbeat house sound like a sophisticated, genuine Lettuce song, what style can't they convert into heavy hitting gut-funk? Maybe it's Deitch's "Break Science" flavor crossing over with Nigel's intellectual flair or the minor nine horn touches of "The Shady Horns" that makes this jam so sweet, but whatever it is, the amalgam seems to be working here on all fronts.
Things continue evolving as you get further into the loins of this thing. "Moksha”, an indian ragga of sorts (feat. Indrajit Banerjee), sounds like something off of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s "Joyful Noise" or John Scofield's "Uberjam" mixed with completely funkified the sitar. "Mr. Dynamite", a song that sounds like it was lifted straight out of the series "Shaft", got the job done with intense imagery and jaw-dropping sax synth. The space in that one speaks volumes and it has to be up there among my favorite tracks on this thing. Making for a nice segue, "Silence is Golden" represents this mentality perfectly. I've always felt that Lettuce can say more with a rest than a single chord or note. Beautifully done as always, gentlemen.
"Blaze" really kicked things off like a 7 a.m. g-tube, setting the mood and allowing these usual suspects to really let loose on the groove. It actually reminded me of "Blast Off" a bit for this reason. Shmeeans and Deitch are really starting to emulsify rhythmically, conveying the inseparable chemistry the group shares off stage and bringing that friendship to the world. "Good Morning Mr. Shmink" seems to pick up where the anthology of "Shmink Dabby" left off. The drums are absolutely filthy on this joint and Nigel contributes to the grease factor with raunchy organs that would make predecessor Neil Evans proud. I am also so glad to see that they are keeping the tradition of the 'Lude alive as Dilla would've wanted, proving that this music making process is a lifestyle. It takes many forms, names, and figures, but is above all an extension of their unique personalities and a brotherhood-unified and undivided. Their integrity and respect for the music is always clearly on display, challenging the status quo while paying deep homage to their influences on the same token. It is in their cover of "Remember the Children", a song originally performed by Earth, Wind & Fire, that I truly felt their musical power on a personal level. I work as a banquet bartender for my day job so I am no stranger to EW&F's legendary catalog. I've never quite caught the bug for this group, most likely because I haven't experienced their essence and was not brought up on their discography, but that all changed when I heard this cover. It's safe to say they gained a fan who will be delving much deeper than "Shining
Star" and "Sing a Song" in the coming days, and that in itself is an amazing thing.
I can't seem to envision a more perfect track than "Resonate". It brought this whole, funky road show home and, dare I say, brought a few tears to my eye with it's patience, depth and wonderfully emotive feel. It's pretty wild when a song can almost transport you into another realm for the duration of it's play, and that’s what this one did for me. Although it's an instrumental, the lingering beat and perfect major resolves transcended time and space, creating what I interpreted to be a message of peace, love, and harmony . At the risk of crossing over into monkhood here, I can boldly say that cooperation and determination to reach common goals and "resonate" conjoining frequencies found in everyone, seems to not only be a theme in Lettuce's practice room, but is the very epitome of this particular body of work. The final track portrays something lyrics can't say, but rather, that you can only feel. I truly believe it is their best work to date and it makes me wickedly optimistic for the future of the band.
Before I start preaching the band’s unspoken gospel, I will close with this. Lettuce has become one of the most endearing collectives of musical savants in the authenticity-deprived music industry today. They shine brightly, a beacon of true innovation shaping and shifting the borders of possibility and creating a way forward for players with something to say. Something from the heart. I don't know when we'll see another force like this one, if ever, but one thing is plainly obvious: the Lett is here to stay, so make way!