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Original Music Review makes jazz bounce with a little '70s funk. 

Original Energy

If Andrew Conover accomplishes only one thing with his music, he wants to make sure it is never heard in an elevator or in a doctor's office.

"I think the party aspect of [jazz] needs to come back," says Conover, the 24-year-old leader of Original Music Review, a local Dixieland/funk band with an energetic sound as indebted to George Clinton as it is to Louis Armstrong.

OMR has toured as backup for artists as diverse as the Junkyard Band, Brand Nubian, George Clinton and Digable Planets.

"If you were to add all of those together, that's a lot of what we are," says Conover, a singer with a soulful vocal style that sounds a lot like a deeper version of Jamiroquai's Jason Kay.

Conover, who now attends VCU, grew up in a section of Tallahassee, Fla., called French Town, a Creole neighborhood in the Florida panhandle city. "Funk-Dixieland was a thing down there," he says. "Still is." He got his first taste of that underground sound at Kelly's, a juke joint owned by his dad's boyhood friend. Through the bar's rear door he found a smoky world of all-night music and partying that he has never wanted to leave.

"I always knew I was going to play music," Conover says. He picked up a fiddle when he was 6 years old, soon graduated to the guitar and has been standing in front of the microphone since he was 15. He says leading a band is now second nature.

Conover formed OMR in September 1998 with brother Anthony, who plays stand-up bass. The band released a self-titled CD in January 1999. "It was a failed attempt to make radio-friendly tunes," he says. Maybe. But the CD makes great party music, with plenty of steady, repetitive guitar and horn lines anchored by driving funk and hip-hop flavored beats.

Toby Whitaker, Haywood Tucker, Gordon Jones and Scott Frock play horns on the CD. Joel DiNunzio plays drums and Darnley Hodge keyboard.

OMR has a flexible lineup — guest musicians frequent the live shows, and they usually improvise the entire set.

"We do a lot of jams, and a lot of people cringe from that word," Conover says. "But we are not the Grateful Dead. I've never been a fan of long, pointless jams."

Conover is busy putting the material together for a second album. He hopes to capture OMR's sound with more of an emphasis on go-go inspired vocal hooks and New Orleans-style leads. "It's going to be completely us," he says.

Conover also knows it's going to be hard to sell music that people aren't used to. "It's a brand-new style that's just coming out," he says, "and it's going to be a long time coming."

For now, Conover will keep the lights on by playing backup for bigger names while finding time to promote OMR. "I'm never going to be a millionaire," he says. "I know that.

"But," he grins, "I'll always make my living playing
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