There's nothing wrong with pretty music. I've certainly heard enough ugly music to feel grateful for a local band that is easy on the ears and eager to please. Sparklemotion, with its collage of 1970s jazz-inflected rock and production soul, offers a comfortable backdrop to a satisfying, low-key night out. If that's its goal, it's succeeding. But if Sparklemotion is hoping to wrench its listeners away from their bar conversations, to put down their martinis and dance, or to eventually buy a Sparklemotion CD, something more is needed.
We walked in on a first set in time to catch the band's original tune "Share Some Time." "Sounds like they've heard a Steely Dan record or two," my friend said. We had to laugh when the next number was "Hey Nineteen." The set lists continued with Stevie Wonder's "I Wish," Bill Withers's "Use Me," and Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star." I like this band's record collection.
And the members of Sparklemotion are certainly capable of reproducing it. All four men have music degrees, three have a background in jazz performance, and they each continue to work with other fine local bands, including Thornetta Davis and the U-M Jazz Ensemble. They are not tied to note-for-note replications and clearly feel musically connected to their influences.
Lead guitarist Kris Kurzawa, tall and lanky, grabs the lion's share of attention with intense (but never screaming) solos that go beyond the familiar interludes of the cover tunes. His buttery voice and occasional falsetto add the appropriate romantic feel to the vocal line and mix well with the vocal harmonies of fellow guitarist Rob Nelson. Bassist Mike Craft looks tough, with his crew cut and chiseled cheekbones, but he approaches his instrument with an easy style and soothing tone. However, I felt he could exploit the opportunity to play more melodically challenging lines, given the repertoire. Mike Gabelman doesn't swagger on the drums, but his fast tempos occasionally push the funk right out of the groove, as on "Pick Up the Pieces" by the Average White Band.
Sparklemotion hasn't been playing together long. I'm sure the talent each member brings to the stage will eventually blossom into a single, lovely flower. But the band's focus on warm, feel-good music risks becoming lukewarm without a stronger connection to the blues roots of its chosen musical era. My friends and I left Sparklemotion's show thinking of all the other cool (and a little rougher) 1970s outfits we'd like to know these musicians are hearing, like the Band, Little Feat, or Santana. That's not to say I wouldn't go see them again just as they are. I'm just eager to see what else they can do.
Sparklemotion is at Goodnite Gracie on Saturday, February 12