Soul Sugar- Hands On EP (album)

If you’re familiar with the French keyboardist/musician Guillaume Metenier, then you’re aware of the fact that the man is a serious soul-jazz and organ-funk enthusiast. If he isn’t studying the finer points of the Hammond B-3 organ with the legendary Dr. Lonnie Smith, or putting together amazing soul-jazz mixes for, he’s creating his own unique sounds as the leader of the jazz revivalist outfit, Soul Sugar. The group’s sound has been described as “…a blend of tripped out 70’s style funk “ and  “eclectic grooves” and has helped to introduce a new generation of fans to a musical history that includes such jazz greats as Jimmy Smith, The Meters, and Richard “Groove” Holmes.   On their latest release, an EP entitled Hands On , Soul Sugar the band revisits the bluesy, organ-driven, sound that they masterfully captured on their acclaimed debut LP (2009’s Nothing But The Truth) while also managing to expand their sound to include the ambient sounds of Jamaican dub music.

The EP opens with “Witch Doctor”, a bluesy slow-burner of a track that features great psychedelic guitar licks and smoldering organ lines.  The track makes for a great introduction as the arrangement avoids being so complex that it begs the listener to press the skip button, but isn’t so simple that it sounds like a hip-hop sample that has been set to loop infinitely.

Soul Sugar- Witch Doctor 

The EP changes the pace a bit with its second cut, as the laid back vibes created with "Witch Doctor" are traded in for the amplified energy of the EP's title cut, "Hands On".  Over the course of the track's all too brief 2 minute and 44 seconds running time, listeners not only gets a chance to hear Meternier show off his skills on the keys, we also get a chance to hear drummer Yvo Abadi and guitarist Thomas Naim showcase their talents over a water-tight groove that's tailor-made for dance-floors. And the soulful sounds don't let up as the combo gives fans more and more soul, from the fluid arrangements on "Hit the 5" to a moving rendition of James Brown's "Theme from King Heroin".  

Soul Sugar- Theme from King Heroin 

And while there's no mistaking the fact that Guillaume Metenier is a talented student of jazz who is influenced by many of the greats that came before him, he also manages to showcase his dub music influences on the final two tracks of the EP; the low-end heavy "Drum Song" and a spacey remix of "Theme from King Heroin" as arranged by French producer Blundetto

The beauty of Soul Sugar's Hands On EP is how masterfully the players manage to capture the one-take, analogue feel of those classic soul-jazz albums from the 60's and 70's, while it's 26 minute running time moves at a steady pace that mirrors the conciseness of vinyl releases of yesteryear.  It doesn't take any stretch of the imagination to picture someone playing "Hit the 5" or "Witch Doctor"right alongside Grover Washington Jr's "Mister Magic" at an old school house party. And while this throwback feel of the album is one of its major strengths, in some ways it's also one of it's major drawbacks. The time constraints of an EP may give the project an "all-killer/no-filler" vibe, but it also leaves the listener wanting more well after the final note has sounded. But I'm sure this point wasn't overlooked by Guillaume Metenier as this project is most likely meant to serve as an appetizer for the group's full length project (an LP that's also entitled Hands On ) that is set to drop early next year.

Another potential drawback of the EP is the absence of a track featuring vocals.  The music of Soul Sugar, along with bands like The Bamboos, The Quantic Soul Orchestra, and Orgone, has challenged many young audiences to rediscover many of the artists whose music helped to pioneer the soul, jazz, and funk genres.  And while I have no doubt that the instrumentation of these bands played a huge role in converting many of these young ears, I'm also certain that many of these bands owe a large portion of their success to collaborations with singers such as Alice Russell and Kylie Auldist. So while I would be perfectly happy listening to a box-set of instrumental jazz and deep-funk, I have to concede that some fans will be put off by the fact that Hands On doesn't feature a single vocal performance. These minor points aside, I have to say that  Hands On's  is a solid collections of songs that is a welcomed change of pace from the synthetic and overly-polished sound heard on many of the jazz projects that are currently on the market. Just give this project a listen, and I guarantee that you will be looking forward to hearing more from the Soul Sugar collective.

 Standout Tracks:
"Witch Doctor", "Hands On", "Theme from King Heroin (Blundetto Dub Mix)"

You can check out the Hands On EP when it drops in September (2012). But if you can't wait to hear more music from the EP, you can listen to an exclusive preview live and direct from the band via their Soundcloud page |  Listen to the preview

For now, you can check out Soul Sugar's debut LP, Nothing But The Truth (Freestyle Records) at these retailers


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