If you need just one group that can provide some pointers on how â€˜70s and â€˜80s brand of R&B and funk should be played, I have an excellent suggestion. The five-piece band, Excellent Gentlemen (E.G.), is the answer. David Valentine, P. J. Snaxx, Jefferson Sechs, Steveland Swatkins and Dominic Phenomenal do an extremely credible job honoring the old school with their original compositions. During E.G.'s lively stage shows, these guys get down into the funky trenches, whether through the talk box Roger Troutman made famous or in that Funkadelic/Parliament intergalactic mode. Then there is the band's softer side, as heard on the laidback balladry that Frankie Beverly & Maze and Tower of Power mastered to pure perfection. Occasionally they can even toss a few raps in for good measure. Yet, the piece-de-resistance about E. G. is that there is not one auto-tune generated voice or stale robotic beat in their arsenal. Anyone who has attended their performances is truly aware that E.G. never cheats their audiences of a completely authentic musical show. They invest one-hundred percent of their efforts into a positive soulful experience.
Ever since the band moved from the East Coast, E.G. has successfully established their feet on West Coast ground, but their current residence is not exactly a major soul music mecca. Originally from New York, E. G. is one of several transplanted artists (African musician Odo Addy, former Gang of Five member Dave Allen) now residing in Portland, Oregon, a city full of rich musical history since the â€˜60s. In recent years, the so-called â€˜Rose City' is most famous for its independent rock/pop scene, boasting rockers like the The Shins and eclectic pop groups such as Pink Martini.
Yet, the dominance of mainstream music in the Pacific Northwest does not stop the faithful soul music fans in Portland from supporting national R&B acts, as evidenced by a recent sold-out Raphael Saadiq show. Besides the touring acts, there are several home-based urban artists including the 2008 Soul Tracks Award nominee for New Artist, Liv Warfield, and the soul/pop/rock band Intervision. Tony Ozier's Dooky Jam Sessions is also a weekly hangout in Portland, hosted by the famed multi-instrumentalist from the Liv Warfield Experience where talented musicians from all genres tend to express the funkier side of their vocal chops at Ozier's. Yet within Portland's miniscule urban music market, E. G. has added a much needed old-school soulful injection. Ever since moving from New York, E. G. has managed to stand out as one of the most popular bands in recent memory to play Portland's top-notch venues.
There should be many more top-tier shows to come following the release of E. G.'s self-released debut, Just Say Yes. The project wonderfully captures the spark of their live Portland club dates through ten tracks of fairly authentic â€˜70s and â€˜80s smooth R&B and party funk. Well mastered and produced, E.G.'s decision to use David Friedlander, a highly reputable Portland-based engineer (Prince, George Clinton) for their maiden recording, proves an inspired choice.
Usually I pick and choose favorite cuts, but the consistency of the E.G. debut makes that a challenging proposition. In the case of Just Say Yes, everything here is quite appealing. The ultimate strength lies in E. G.'s detailed attention to the best of those "back in the day" bands that successfully balance the passionate vocals of bands like Tower of Power, Con Funk Shun and Maze, and â€˜get down on it' backbeats of funksters like Cameo, Zapp, and The Gap Band.
However, there is one standout track deserving of an honorable mention, and noteworthy to hometown Portland soul fans. At E.G.'s club dates, they are occasionally billed with the locally known group Intervision featuring lead vocalist Paul Creighton. Creighton's an artist whose tenor has shades of Marvin & Stevie; one befitting that traditional R&B vibe E.G. aims for. Capitalizing on those classic flavors, E.G. invited Creighton to join them on the remarkable Stevie Wonder-inspired "Remember Your Love" and the results are one of Just Say Yes's special vocal treats.
With so many quality songs, this strong debut is an excellent invitation for future fans of Excellent Gentleman who may not have had the opportunity to see this electrifying band in concert. In all aspects, Just Say Yes validates E.G.'s obvious knowledge of sound, old-school R&B. In their mastery of the fundamentals, they could teach a class for many musically-challenged bands of the day. In Just Say Yes, Excellent Gentleman offers a welcome alternative for those searching for more than today's over-hyped, high-tech R&B hit machine. Highly Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver