April 28, 2004 News & Features » Cover Story


Modern Groove Syndicate 

Folding funk squalls back into cohesion.

The previous night Modern Groove Syndicate had ended a performance outside Roanoke, more than four hours away, after midnight. Drummer Joel DeNunzio had to attend a full slate of classes the next day for his job as an engineer with the state, so the band drove all the way back after the gig. Here members were with the van again, ready to repeat the ritual. Except for Joel — he was asleep.

The white van takes them to about 10 gigs a month, and this summer it will likely carry them across the country for a tour of the West Coast. It’s not only their frequent sleeping quarters, but an appropriate symbol for Modern Groove Syndicate. These guys are going places.

The band received a Grammy nomination for its first record, and it just released a second, “Vessel,” featured recently on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program. But despite its serious intentions, saxophonist J. C. Kuhl insists, “We’re not serious about anything. You should hear us in the van, man, and you’d know we’re not serious.” For anyone who’s heard the complex turn-on-a-dime arrangements and technically impressive soloing, that notion’s hard to take. Modern Groove Syndicate’s ability to build on idea after idea to where things reach some edgy acid-jazz funk squall before tidily folding back into cohesion is no light accomplishment.

Bass player Todd Herrington feels the music is aimed at “putting the personalities together — our individual voices, rather than our influences.” The sound is “a cross between Weather Report and Al Green,” he says, and the others agree. Like Weather Report, the band’s music pleases the mind, but it clearly connects with the body as well. Keyboardist Daniel Clarke adds: “That’s where the Al Green comes in. It feels so good, like Al Green. If we can put a funky-ass beat to a great melody, that can sell itself.” — Andy Garrigue

Modern Groove Syndicate performs biweekly (alternating with Bio Ritmo) at Emilio’s Tapas Bar. The next show is Tuesday, May 11, at 10 p.m., $3. The band’s latest album, “Vessel,” is available at music stores and www.moderngroovesyndicate.com.

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