Lettuce, the seven-person all-star collective – featuring members of Robert Randolph’s band, John Scofield’s band and Soulive – returns to the funk-jazz forefront on April 22nd with their new full length. RAGE! is a tantalizing tribute to funk music – paying homage to all stripes of funksters, including James Brown, Sly Stone, Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power, The Meters, Earth Wind & Fire and Parliament / Funkadelic.
It’s music that reflects “our way of life,” says bassist Erick “E.D.” Coomes, who is joined in the groove onslaught by his co-ragers: guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff, drummer Adam Deitch, keyboardist Neal Evans, saxophonists Sam Kininger and Ryan Zoidis.
Lettuce sprouted in the fertile environment of Berklee College of Music in Boston where all members met at a summer music program when they were in their teens. All the members brought to the group different funk-styled influences. For example, Krasno was into the new jazz funk of Herbie Hancock, Deitch was raised on Tower of Power and Earth Wind & Fire and introduced that sound through his compositions to the band.
Later all Lettuce members, who had remained in contact with each other, returned to Berklee as full-fledged undergrads and picked up right where they left off. They were fond of showing up with their instruments at underground jazz clubs like Wally’s (usually at other musicians’ gigs) and asking, “Will you let us play?”— hence the birth of the name Lettuce. “We never thought that name would stick,” says Krasno, “but we just never got around to changing it.”
While the collective has been playing consistently since its founding, averaging three or four times per year, each member of Lettuce has branched out into various other projects. Krasno and Evans founded the band Soulive, and Kininger and Zoidis toured with band as the Soulive Horns. Kininger fronts his own group, while Zoidis is in the successful Portland, Maine-based rock band Rustic Overtones. Deitch works as a session and touring drummer and producer, with his support-team resume including John Scofield and Wyclef Jean. He’s gone on to produce songs with Krasno for top artists such as 50-Cent, Talib Kweli and Redman. Shmeeans plays with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and E.D. has laid down bass lines for The Game, DJ Quik, Britney Spears and others.
Lettuce spent two days rehearsing, with different members bringing in music to experiment with. Then there was the sound factor. “We wanted the record to sound like the old stuff we were paying tribute to,” says E.D. “So we recorded with an old board, old mikes, old tube compressors.”
As for the wide range of funk Lettuce dives into on Rage!, E.D. cites two factors: the deaths in 2006 of both James Brown and J Dilla. “That’s when we decided to tip our hats to every style of funk,” he says. In addition to groove-steeped originals, Lettuce delivers two covers: Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” with guest vocalist Dwele, and Charles Wright’s “Express Yourself,” with vocals by Kininger. It’s music that represents “a new era,” says Krasno. “We blend the old school with the new. We take solos but we also vamp on two-bar loops.” Lettuce is a group that takes its dedication to the music seriously – as Deitch says, “Know your history and take it somewhere.”
1 Blast Off
2 Sam Huff’s Flying Rage Machine
3 Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield)
4 King of the Burgs
5 Need to Understand
6 Last Suppit
8 Makin’ My Way Back Home
11 Express Yourself (Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band)
13 By Any Shmeeans Necessary
14 Bonus Track: Mr. Yancey