by Patrick Dunn
From the September, 2016 issue
Watching Jive Colossus take the stage before a set, it's difficult to know exactly what sort of music to expect. Looking at the predominantly Caucasian ten-person lineup, with a wide variety of fashion senses and ages, jazz or blues might seem the safest bet, if one had to place money on the band's genre. Blistering funk and sashaying Afro-Caribbean grooves would be something of a longshot, to say the least--but that's the band's wheelhouse, and they handle it exceedingly well.
The group's repertoire emphasizes mostly covers, but it's a diverse bunch of tunes. One minute the band is tackling the Budos Band's contemporary funk in "Ride or Die," the next digging into traditional Afrobeat with Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango's influential 1972 tune "Soul Makossa." Contemporary R&B is represented as well, with covers of modern-day soul divas like Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse. And the band also acquits itself well with its own Caribbean-inflected compositions, like the sauntering "Rum Punch."
The band's stylistic adaptability may well be attributable to the sheer range of talent onstage. Although there's obviously a bit of swaggering hyperbole behind Jive Colossus's name, it's not that much of a misnomer. With two guitarists, two percussionists, and a three-piece horn section alongside a vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist, the band is huge, spilling off the stage onto the dance floor during a recent show at the Club Above, where it returns for a show on September 9. The strongest element of the lineup is a formidable horn section comprising Ross Huff on trumpet and flugelhorn, David Swain on baritone sax, and Asim Khan on trombone. The three have strong interplay, whether forming a unified wall of sound or intertwining melody lines. Swain and Huff are standouts when it comes to solos, respectively offering controlled staccato bursts of notes and soaring, athletically sustained runs.
Jim Predhomme on drums and Keith Poncher on congas and other percussion are also key. Predhomme takes the lead on the funk and soul tunes,
while Poncher is emphasized on the more Afrobeat-oriented material, and both provide rich percussive accents even when they're taking the backseat on a given song.
Vocalist Shelley Catalan is the most animated member of the band and its front person, handling gentle banter with the audience and maintaining a sense of visual energy by dancing and occasionally playing a shekere during instrumental numbers. Catalan doesn't try to imitate some of the powerhouse belters she covers. Her upper range is breathy and her lower range a little husky, creating a more restrained, sultry sound that's all her own.
The rest of the players are similarly talented in less showy roles (Tony Ketz's agile, improvisational bass work is particularly impressive, though not often spotlighted). In the truest testament to the group's collective skill, it takes little time for Jive Colossus to activate a dance floor with its broad repertoire of hip bone-liberating grooves. In the best way imaginable, newcomers will get so much more than they might have bet on.
[Originally published in September, 2016.]
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