Lettuce - Rage! (2008)
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Formed in 1992 by four alumni of the Berklee College of Music, Lettuce is a six-member "funk/jazz/soul/jam/psychedelic/hip-hop/avant-garde/experimental" musical group that has been produced several acclaimed albums: Outta Here (2002), Rage! (2008), Fly! (2012), Crush (2015), Mt. Crushmore (2016), and Witches Stew (2017). They are currently touring in support of their sixth album, Elevate.
The second studio set from this sideman supergroup of sorts follows its debut by six years but maintains a similar approach. While the first album recorded by the eight-piece ensemble (that gets together only sporadically between other full time gigs) was funk-influenced, this is pure '70s styled retro funk. Think Earth, Wind & Fire, P-Funk, the Crusaders, Tower of Power, James Brown, Rufus with Chaka Khan, you get the idea. To further cement the old school feel, the band recorded with mics and tube compressors from the era. The result is nearly an hour of non-stop, predominantly instrumental, rump shaking jazz-funk fusion that, while obviously indebted to its predecessors, shimmers with a natural energetic groove of its own. These guys play off each other with enthusiasm and are clearly having a ball. All but two tunes are Lettuce compositions with drummer Adam Deitch (50 Cent, Talib Kweli, John Scofield) writing or co-writing eight selections. The three piece horn section gets all AWB on "Salute" and the band finds its Meters "Cissy Strut"-ing heart in "Speak E.Z." The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's "Express Yourself" and Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up" make for two representative and slightly left-of-center covers that fit perfectly with the album's electric boogie vibe, but the rest of the self-penned tracks are nearly as good. The group borrows liberally from its forerunners but does so with such integrity and respect it's impossible to criticize Lettuce for ripping off the licks, lines and riffs of the '70s greats in their record collections. Rather, this is party music made to liven up any shindig and might also encourage some youngsters to search out the sources behind Lettuce's funky blasts. That seems to be at least part of the band's intent. The rest is just to have fun paying tribute to music that inspires them and hope the listener's feelings are mutual.
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