After a year away, Brooklyn has been missing the magic of Bowlive, the annual multi-night, multi-weekend run at The Brooklyn Bowl from legendary organ trio Soulive. But last night, all welcomed the righteous return of this musically resplendent event, as the trio kicked off the event’s first night. And what a huge opening evening it was, for joining the band was none other than saxophonist Karl Denson, guitarist Steve Kimock, along with the latter’s bassist Bobby Vega and singer Leslie Mendelson.
Denson came out from the very start with the trio, and as the four players dove headfirst into the initial groove, it was the saxophonist taking charge first with some fantastic soloing. The Evans brothers served up their prowess immediately, as well, and never stopped cranking away with effortless jazzy fervor, covering all the spaces with Alan Evans moving non-stop like the slick but immaculate machine he is. At the end of one particular jam came a hot drum-sax improv-battle between the Soulive drummer and Denson.
Soon enough, the band brought out, as Eric Krasno put it, “one of my favorite guitar players,” Steve Kimock. It’s likely no surprise that with Kimock’s addition, things got really weird fast– but also really amazing. The combination of the stylings of Krasno and Kimock was something The Bowl was waiting with to hear, and as the rhythm section and Denson began to create a dreamy, atmospheric musical landscape, the two matched up immediately for what was truly transcendent guitar playing.
Again, Alan Evans prodded this lurid, jazzy river along with some light but swift drumming all the way through, and the group coasted into a gorgeously improv-loaded jam on Kimock’s “Footprints.” Neal Evans made a big ending mark upon the Kimock number in laying a heavy, wrenching solo on his keys. Kimock took inspiration and followed up to end it with some of his own awesome soloing.
The second set, as per usual Bowlive style, was nearly all covers. Soulive, and Kimock and Denson, now invited out bassist Bobby Vega to add to the fray, and he dropped some catchy bass lines for a tight kick off instrumental jam. This was followed by bringing out the final guest of the evening, Leslie Mendelson, multi-instrumentalist and singer for Steve Kimock’s current band. With her bright and commanding voice she lead a boldly different take on “The Weight,” playing it to a very funky rhythm and an extra feel-good sound. It was amazing how smoothly she fit into the gradually increasing energy of the night, and there wasn’t a hitch in the energy at any point during this incredible second set.
But she exited briefly, and Denson took his turn to sing on “West L.A. Fadeaway,” which the band improvised on expertly through a spaced-out, but still funky, jam, its groovy legs still walking due to cool work between Vega and Alan Evans. In the midst of this neat musical territory, Denson briefly teased the theme from “Pink Panther” to the amusement of all.
Mendelson returned, this time to sing with the others as Alan Evans now took lead vocals on Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair,” and he’s no slouch when it comes to singing. This was followed by “Scarlet Begonias,” which Krasno, who has proven his affinity for Dead material in recent times, happily took charge on the soloing, colored by a very cool pedaled tone. The second Dead cover culminated in an awesomely powerful jam.
Alan Evans wasted not a second after its end in hammering out the intro to Hendrix’s “Fire,” a perfect launchpad for the band to take off with another exciting, intense stretch of rocking. The entire band pushed the end of the set to its limits, and Krasno and Kimock capped it all off by squaring up at the back of the stage for a seriously smoking exchange of guitar thrilling.
Mendelson returned one more time, to join the rest for an encore of War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” Alan Evans taking lead here again. But the vocal harmony from all involved was also the best of the night, which only left everyone wishing for this jam session to carry on long into the night.
Article and Photos by Miles Hurley