A Chicago-based soul-jazz quintet, Soulio has been hooking audiences since 2004 with a unique repertoire that revolves around the kind of catchy, gritty tunes made famous by old-school improvisers like Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine and the Jazz Crusaders. Soulio presents an olio of jazzy, bluesy and funky soul grooves that are equally suitable for sensual dancing and serious listening. The CD commands universal appeal with a hard-hitting, soulful vibe that's easy for any listener to access, whether jazz aficionado or newcomer to the genre.
Led by trombonist Johnny Showtime (John Janowiak), Soulio includes saxophonist Matt Shevitz, guitarist Jay Montana, bassist Greg Nergaard and drummer Dan Leali. The group features a front line of trombone and sax, putting a slight twist on the classic soul-jazz combo. In the horn line, Showtime and Shevitz complement each other well, the saxophonist's harmonically advanced approach providing counterpoint to the trombonist's funky and melodic musical persona.
Showtime and Leali previously performed together as members of the highly popular acid-jazz outfit Liquid Soul from the mid-'90s through early 2000s. Showtime and Shevitz also played with New Math, which was the brainchild of Nergaard and Montana and featured Shevitz in the horn section.
Several tracks on Soulio feature an extended orbit of regular subs and special guests, adjunct" members who contribute to the band's live performances at popular Chicago jazz venues such as Nick's Beergarden, Pete Miller's Steakhouse and Katerina's. Drummer Xazavian Valladay, who often lends his distinctive gospel-influenced energy to the band's gigs, plays on the Shevitz original Three Buck Chuck." Trumpeter Ron Haynes (also of Liquid Soul fame) lends his powerful chops to the horn section on four of the selections. And keyboardist Vijay Tellis-Nayak (of the Chicago fusion band Kick The Cat) contributes vital piano, Hammond B3 organ, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer parts on a total of four cuts as well.
Soulio offers listeners a wide variety in terms of groove and style. While some of the material leans toward the jazzy bebop side--like Appointment in Ghana"--other tracks such as Inside Straight," The Selma March" and Gibraltar" offer a funkier feel. The pacing of the CD flows like one of Soulio's live performances, with a variety of soulful grooves and exhilarating solos driving the music over the course of the night.
With the release of its eponymous debut, Soulio shows just how likeable soul-jazz can be when played with heart and conviction. The genre of feel-good music that Soulio has publicly embraced since 2004 was once regarded by diehard jazz musicians as nothing more than a lowbrow form of commercialism. You'd think we would be accused of selling out," Showtime said. To the contrary, we get blank stares when we mention Cannonball, Turrentine or even the term 'soul jazz' to many folks. So maybe the time is ripe to reintroduce this kind of material. The important thing is the music is timeless, and it draws people in even if they don't know the history of it."