On a recent episode of The Office, Broccoli Rob (played by Stephen Colbert) yells “Why don’t you ask Trey Anastasio about my pipes?” A response is still forthcoming, but while we’re at it, let’s ask him how he has spawned so many amazing duos. The latest is Soule Monde, a band comprised of a couple TABers from the way back: Russ Lawton and Ray hard-to-spell-his-last-name Paczkowski. Their band name sounds like an exotic sex position, but it’s actually Lawton’s middle name combined with the lopped off end of Paczkowski’s first.
Like the Billy Martin and Wil Blades’ release Shimmy, Soule Monde features two locked-in players who start, end and center each other’s musical sentences. Lawton provides reactive, always in the pocket drums, and Paczkowski unearths a repository of moves heretofore only foreshadowed in his work as a sideman. Paczkowski demonstrates a thorough understanding of players like Jimmy McGriff, Art Neville, Jimmy Smith and Herbie Hancock. The grammy-nominated Lawton’s beats and fills push the melodies along a tightrope. Each tune started as an improvisation but was developed into a full composition: a recipe that can lead to some self-indulgent stinkers. But there’s nothing thrown together or haphazard or indulgent about this album. It’s a fully risen soufflé for the body and the mind.
After hearing Miss Miriam, I kinda want to meet Miss Miriam. She seems like a swell gal. She has some adventures, but even though she doesn’t always understand what’s happening to her she doesn’t get sad. The tune sounds like a space party version of Duke Ellington’s 1935 composition Reminiscing in Tempo with a few of the sections cut out. Ellington described this early masterpiece as beginning “with pleasant thoughts, then something awful gets you down. Then you snap out of it and it ends affirmatively.” Miss Miriam follows a similar narrative path. Bootsy Bonham draws inspiration from the failed blaxploitation detective movie franchise that teamed Bootsy Collins with a tough but lovable partner, John Bonham.
I don’t understand how the duo can get Slide B to hit like it does without Chris Wood in the band. Throughout this album, Paczkowski’s bass lines provide a solid basis for his clavinet and Lawton’s energetic rhythms. The Story starts off dark and dirty, but quickly adds a layer when Paczkowski transitions from clavinet to Hammond B3. It’s worth repeating that there is a narrative quality to a lot of these tunes–something I didn’t expect at all when I first heard about this band. The hint of Wilson in The Story will cause many folks to think of that other band that successfully turns spur-of-the-moment jams into epic tales full of peaks and valleys. If the first minute of Tango doesn’t cement Paczkowski as this generation’s Billy Preston, then grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry and Mona Lisa was a man. If this album doesn’t elevate Soule Monde to a national tour and 17 more albums, I’ll be surprised. If anyone ever tells you instrumentals don’t tell a story, point them Soule Monde’s way.