He plays everything, every style, every technique but it is soul music that touches him the most and allows him to touch others. It is rightly called soul music because it is music from the soul to the soul.
It is the sincerity of his heart that touches. It is opennes and honesty that draws the listener in. It can only be described at the sincerity of love; a perfect love. SoulMates play with a sincere love and it is compelling.
I refuse to accept that only corruption is infectious. I believe that a pureness of heart is even more contagious. It is that shared character between SoulMates that causes wherever they play to become a sanctuary. They bring light and life to any space they occupy. That light and life is expressed in their joy, their love, their humor, and their respect for each other and for everyone in the room.
Monday night, May 14, 2012 was just like that. It was shown in vivid colors how the joy and humor of SoulMates can turn aside sadness and create a cause for celebration. That cause is the simple fact that we are all together, sharing the music and caring for each other. Yes, it sounds maudlin but these are simply the facts of the case.
The magic began with the very first song. Bird opened with an incredible guitar solo that swung wide the gates of paradise and Jarrod Lawson and Reinhardt Melz strutted through with some of the most beautiful keyboard improvs and ripping rhythm work ever. TJ Johnson walked in and assumed his usual spot with a greeting to everyone and the night was swinging into position.
As the second piece--the SoulMates original Fly Away--began, music recording master Brian Bell walked in with smiles and salutes to Bird and the band. Perfect timing to catch a sweet Bird solo as he walked through the crowd, at one point pulling out a chair and sitting down with three lovely ladies; guitar crying sweetly the whole time.
The warmth, smile and generosity of Jay "Bird" Koder. Nobody like him. His solo was so moving that, when Fly Away concluded, Bird looked at Reinhardt and asked, "How you feeling, Nose?" Reinhardt's response: "Pretty good after that solo."
And there it is... all in one answer from Reinhardt. Things are always better after a Bird guitar solo...or a Reinhardt solo...or a Jarrod solo...or when all three are in there together.
Reinhardt's showcase was next with Donny Hathaway's Valdez in the Country. All three can tear it up on this one and they always, always deliver. When Reinhardt finished his drum solo, someone from the audience cooed, "oooooo, Reinhardt!" Then Jarrod received much the same sentiment during Stay which followed next.
In this George Clinton composition, Jarrod created a different intonation than usual and his keyboard work was changed up, as well. SoulMates version is much different from Clinton's version but this was different from their own version! It was yet another higher incarnation of a great original. As Jarrod was humbling the listeners with his far-crying vocals, someone was overheard saying "This guy is amazing..."
Then Bird turns it on again with a solo of Bootsy Collins proportions, only sweeter. Jarrod kept looking over in amazement and said, "Yeah, play it like that but sassy" which brought a burst of laughter and applause from the audience. This was blues to make you smile. It was also blues to make you shake your head in wonder as Reinhardt kept up a forceful, driving rhythm throughout the piece.
Jarrod Lawson is the composer of Juniper Dream which came after. It could easily pass for a Gershwin tune, if you didn't know differently. Again, all three were playing their hearts out in an unmistakable offering of love and friendship. Reinhardt ended the piece on a terrific crash-stop that even made Jarrod spin around and say, "That was the coolest crash I ever heard! I actually thought you broke something!"
Reinhardt always open Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover with the Steve Gadd rhythm but he had more of a military cadence as a prelude on this rendition. The SoulMates version employs samba stylings and everything else and creates great space for expression from each of the musicians. As Bird strolls through the crowd during his solo, Brian Bell encourages him on with "Go, Jay!"
Brian has recorded Jay "Bird" many times and even refers to Bird as "One-take Jay." Bird's first instincts are always on target and rewarding. It is no wonder that he is in such demand for recording sessions.
The most powerfully emotional offering of the night came with Jarrod's original Everything I Need. The sweet song of friendship was dedicated to a couple in the audience with the words "To let them know that wherever they go, they've got everything they need." With friends like those gathered together under the music of SoulMates and the protective eye of the Bird, we all have everything we need.
During the song, even more friends joined in. Musicians Randy Monroe, Reo, and Ricky Vernato came in to join the family with smiles on their faces and were greeted with smiles in return. As Reinhardt catapulted SoulMates into Can't Hide Love, Ricky was singing along as Bird and Jarrod laughed at Reinhardt's early launch.
Another Donny Hathaway hit, I Believe to My Soul, featured the searing blues of SoulMates. Bird changed up the guitar and it was hot. Not just hot...but HAWT! Jarrod provided the monstrous kicking bass from his keyboard. The fun stuff is watching Bird and Jarrod switch off bass parts when the other is featured. Some have suggested that a bass player might be fitting but, as one bassist told me, a bass would just get in the way of these two.
The first set came to a close with I Wish during which ample space is allowed for great guitar work and Reinhardt's cool groove. Below is a link to Jarrod's version found on YouTube. You get the idea of the way SoulMates play it when you see this.
Coolling things off, Reo and Ricky sat in and contributed beautiful, soulful textures to an already sweet night of soul. Reo expressed the night's emotions perfectly when he sang, "I feel so good tonight because SoulMates are my family..." He broke into a little It Was Just My Imagination as Ricky supported with delicate and meaningful piano playing.
Bird and Reo turned it into a church meeting with the call-and-response between vocal and guitar. Church music is a cornerstone of soul and blues and the tradition was in full exposure with Bird, Reo and Ricky.
Jarrod returned for Love, Love, Love and the sound of missing and longing was heart-breaking. Bird's guitar solo was so far-reaching, so pure, so very compelling. While being a song of absence, Bird brought eveyone under his wings for comfort.
SoulMates never leave one down. The final song of the evening was an extended encore of All Day Sucker. The bone-crushing funk could raise the spirits of the damned. It was the best version of the song ever heard by any of us. While not a final send-off, it was a closing of a Monday ritual and they were going to close it in style and in joy. Here is the joy and wonder of SoulMates: the music continues and hearts are forever knit. Grief and melancholy have little room to manouver when SoulMates are in session.
There is great comfort in knowing that every Monday night, somewhere, people are listening with their hearts as SoulMates are playing music from the soul to the soul.