On Saturday night, January 19th 2013, the Chrome Showroom inside North Las Vegas’ Santa Fe Station Hotel & Casino was the location for a high-voltage performance by contemporary jazz superstar Euge Groove and his sterling assemblage of some of the finest backing musicians residing on the West Coast. Although he has been a frequent entertainment fixture in the Las Vegas area over the past decade, this was Euge’s first engagement at the Chrome Room.
As vapors of smoke floated out on stage the band embarked on the title cut from Euge Groove’s new release House of Groove to a rapturous reception. The head-boppin’ mid-tempo groove on this instrumental tour de force was thick as trees in a forest. It served fair notice that an evening of magnificent music dished up by highly accomplished artists was in store. A rock-solid rhythm section of drummer Eric Valentine and bassist Darryl Williams laid the firm foundation as keyboardist Rodney Lee and guitarist Ross Bolton each added tasteful embellishments. Impeccable saxophonist Euge Groove expertly piloted this skilled group on the funky song that hearkens back to his days with the Bay Area funk/soul horn band Tower of Power. Euge’s instrument of choice on this song, as well as the great majority of the show, was his eye-catching solid nickel Keilwerth Shadow tenor sax; and its sound was big as a house in the master’s hands. It also bears mentioning that Euge was resplendently attired in a dark grey sharkskin suit with a formal black shirt and dress shoes. This dapper wardrobe did not impede him one iota from moving and grooving and getting a good sweat on this evening.
An early major concert highlight arrived when Euge revisited “Sneak a Peek,” the initial break-through cut from his first/self-titled solo release of 2000. The song endures as one of his best-known and treasured hits containing a teasingly enticing groove teamed with an immaculate arrangement. It also featured the dramatic sax growls and flutter notes that have helped Groove stand out amongst his contemporaries.
Another huge crowd favorite was the sultry and seductive “Chillaxin’,” from Just Feels Right. On this tune Euge Groove traded his tenor horn for a soprano saxophone to begin the tune gorgeously. The lilting feel-good breeze of this song was exhilarating and provided ample evidence of Groove’s perfect intonation blended with his ever-present gratifying emotive delight.
Euge went old-school R&B quiet storm in a big way with his romantic rendition of the 1975 Major Harris mega-hit “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” pulled from EG’s S7even Large release. This landmark soul-drenched chestnut features a smoothly sensual melody coupled with heightened dynamics; qualities that are prevalent in many of Euge Groove’s own smash compositions. It was chosen for an audience participation exercise that somewhat dulled the melody’s tender musical experience, but compensated by elevating the overwhelming feel-good vibe existing in the room. Euge’s deep rich muscular tones on tenor sax permeated the room with an abounding ambiance akin to a thick haze as Euge took his meandering stroll through the first few rows of the audience.
The amply titled “Slow Jam” from Born 2 Groove brought its memorable gently soulful spill that was warmly appreciated by all those in witness. This deeply emotional work of art was highlighted by Rodney Lee’s ethereal keys in tandem with Euge’s very spiritual sax work which simmered with a sensual fire. “Slow Jam” with its adept craftsmanship is one of my all time personal favorite EG compositions.
“Religify,” also from Born 2 Groove, was prefaced by Euge stating that he knew for certain that it was one particular person’s favorite Euge Groove number. He requested that Jayden stand up; and the young Jayden did him one better by making his way up on the stage to attempt to groove rhythmically and move his arms in time to the rivulet of soul stirring music. Although barely bigger than Euge’s tenor saxophone, Jayden displayed no shyness or stage fright and will surely enjoy a lifelong memory from his experience.
A brief fragment of Carlos Santana’s beautiful “Europa” gave ace guitarist Ross Bolton a chance to shine brightly in a one on one with Euge Groove. The long-time funk guitar instructor is a funk-authority with books and countless guitar magazine articles bearing his byline. The highly versatile Eric Valentine greatly impressed the entire evening, turning in a Steve Gadd-like performance on drums; recognizing exactly when to hold back and when to leap forward. Darryl Williams, the bass-man supreme hailing from San Diego, boasting a praiseworthy solo CD a couple years ago on his resume, was his usual beastly best. And Rodney Lee, probably best known as Chris Standring’s chief collaborator and Mindi Abair’s confederate, put sharp focus on the deep-burrowed groove with his myriad of keys. All of them are first-call sidemen; the sort that a premier star such as Euge Groove, a.k.a. Steven Eugene Grove, can bring together.
The now-customary dance contest that Euge called the “badonkadunk, shake your booty competition” garnered good participation with competitors spanning the age groups from pre-teens to forty-somethings. To get things rolling Euge quoted Tina Turner ( with whom he has toured the globe) declaring: “we’re gonna take the beginning of this song and do it easy…..” The challenge, as expected, was accompanied by the playing of “Born 2 Groove,” a song made to order to elicit a rush to hit the dance floor. This evening’s winner of a House of Groove CD was an uninhibited lady who Euge half-jokingly refers to as a “professional dancer.”
The hot and steamy funk was truly flying off the hook when the band paid homage to TOP on “What is Hip?.” Eric Valentine’s percussive assaults on his Yamaha drum kit, coupled with the funk-fused walking bass lines from Darryl Williams were sublime. Guitar guru Ross Bolton, residing in the deep pocket of his funk comfort zone, helped guarantee that the standing crowd was enjoying every moment. Superlative keyboardist Rodney Lee, not to be left out, was at his most animated prominence of the night. These truly great, and highly supportive, sidemen were permitted to stand out on this jam. These combined spirited efforts encouraged Euge Groove to operate at his fiery visceral peak.
The night’s encore was “Livin’ Large,” the title cut and massive hit single from the 2004 CD of the same name. The brilliantly uplifting pop/soul/jazz masterpiece ended the evening on a resonant note, leaving those worshipping at the House of Groove wanting more. All of the essential ingredients (terrific venue, appreciative audience, and excellent musicians) were in position for a fantastic evening of contemporary jazz steeped in funk, and Euge Groove and his musical allies responded with a gem of a powerful performance.