Review by Brad Walseth
Chicago soul jazz band Soulio wastes no time in getting straight to the point, starting off with Dexter Gordon's "Society Red" and serving notice immediately that these cats intend to groove and swing in a manner that will have the listener smiling as his body parts begin to move in various directions. This tight combo is led by former "Liquid Soul" trombonist John (Johnny Showtime) Janowiak, with talented musicians drummer Dan Leali (also formerly of Liquid Soul, and of "Poi Dog Pondering" and Fareed Haque fame), saxman Matt Shevitz, guitarist Jay Montana and bassist Greg Nergaard who form the core group. Guest participants include trumpeter Ron Haynes, Keyboardist Vijay Tellis-Nayak ("Kick the Cat") and drummer Xazavian Valladay. All are active musicians on the Chicago scene, where the Soulio configuration is making waves with its crowd-pleasing blend of jazz, blues, funk and soul.
Tracks here feature tunes by Grant Green ("The Selma March"), Eddie Harris ("Cold Duck Time"), Freddie Hubbard ("Gibraltar"), The Adderleys (a stomping "Inside Straight"), Jackie McLean ("Appointment in Ghana") and Bobby Timmons ("Dat Dere"). Wow, nice choices, huh? But there's more. There's a catchy version of the chestnut "Sunny" and one of the evergreen 1968 Hugh Masekela hit single "Grazing in the Grass"(written by Philemon Hou) With tunes like these, a band could hardly go wrong, but what makes it especially special is that in this case the members are fortunately very much into the spirit of the songs themselves. Two originals by saxophonist Shevitz ("Large Marge," and "Three Buck Chuck") not only fit right in, but allow the band members to really stretch out, while showcasing Shevitz' compositional chops.
This is good time straight ahead soul-jazz that is meant to be enjoyed by listeners or dancers alike. The interplay between all the band members and horn players Janowiak and Shevitz especially is joyous. Shevitz shines with several audacious solos that threaten to burn down the place, while guests Haynes and Tellis-Nayak complement nicely and bring their all on their solos as well. Showtime's trombone is gritty and growling, while Montana shows a nice blues/jazz feel on the six-string. Leali and Nergaard are completely locked in, allowing the soloists a solid base on which they can rely on.
A few highlights include Shevitz's incendiary tenor solos on "Inside Straight, "Appointment in Ghana" and his arrangement of "Sunny," Tellis-Nayak's Wurlitzer solo on "Sunny" and his down-home organ on "The Selma March," Nergaard's tasty bass intro to "Gibraltar" (perhaps my favorite number on the recording), Montana's guitar work on "The Selma March," Leali's solo interludes on "Large Marge" and "Ghana," and of course Janowiak/Showtime's bluesy solo on "Large Marge" as well as his sly nod to Sly Stone and "Big Rock Candy Mountain" during his "Grazing" solo, but this truly is a total band effort and the solos are consistently flavorful throughout. Janowiak, Leali, Shevitz and company take the listener to Gibraltar, Selma and Ghana and back without leaving the confines of a Chicago nightclub, and it's a welcome and enjoyable trip indeed.