Over its 20-year existence, the jazz-funk septet Lettuce has launched the careers of several notable musicians, among them guitarist Eric Krasno and keyboardist Neal Evans of Soulive; drummer Adam Deitch, who’s played with John Scofield’s band; and guitarist Adam Smirnoff, a semi-regular with Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Yet, surprisingly, Fly is only the third studio recording Lettuce has released, as de facto bandleader Deitch and the rest of the group have focused largely on concert appearances targeting the jam-band crowd.
The new CD, like 2009’s somewhat slicker Rage!, handily captures the band’s live vibe, attaching sticky rhythm-section grooves to catchy melodies, popping horn blasts and galvanizing solos. The title track, one of nine tunes co-written by Deitch, opens the disc with a wash of flickering flute, wah-wah guitar, shimmering cymbals and pulsing keyboards before settling into lazy reggae rhythms and dub effects. It’s the calm before the stormy, hard funk of “Lettsanity” (which is bolstered by Ryan Zoidis’ extended tenor-sax romp) and other similarly funky tunes.
Lettuce has a readily identifiable sound, drawing from the likes of James Brown, Tower of Power and even vintage soul-jazz. Fly finds the group exploring a variety of sounds and styles. They toast Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste on the New Orleans-style R&B of “Ziggowatt,” amp up the acid-rock guitar on “The Crusher” and successfully cop War’s Latin-jazz-funk mix on a cover of that band’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” Soul singer and regular collaborator Nigel Hall is out front on “Do It Like You Do,” a heavy slab of old-school R&B and the CD’s sole vocal tune.
Ultimately, Fly soars, which will hardly come as a surprise to those listeners already on board with a band that may yet climb above the radar.