Got a definition for soul? No, me neither. But if you wanted to smell it, taste it, lick it off the walls, you could have done worse than catch the Mike Hobart Quintet warming up a chill night at the Vortex. They were there to launch their debut CD, Evidential, and like the best of launches, there was that slightly delirious mix of jamboree and danger. No matter how road tested the band, or tight the arrangements, this is the gig with your name on it.
But the Mike Hobart Quintet are a band to surf that edge between giving you a good time and stretching you, pushing that bit further. And they nailed it. They set their stall out immediately with the Blue Note swagger of ‘Fathead’, a Hobart tribute to sax heroes like Fathead Newman and Stanley Turrentine, while ‘Mace’s Paces’ likewise summons the spirit of soul funk master, Maceo Parker with whom Hobart once sparred. But this band can take it down too, with Hobart swapping his raw, almost Pharoah-like attack for the lyrical ballad ‘Rosie’, a stand out from their debut album. But this is a band of many parts, and Chris Lee’s cool trumpet, that sits so sweet beside Hobart’s fierce tenor, took the lead on his own, epic and splendidly titled ‘Victory to The Underdog’.
Pianist Danny Keane has a different voice too, tumultuously tumbling over himself in solos of almost baroque grandiosity: over the top? No, ‘cos there’s drummer Eric Ford to answer back in as tight and tough a way as you’d want. And holding the groove down is bass man Gottlieb who, knowing a great riff when he’s lobbed one, drove on the album’s title track with relish.
Through it all Hobart’s affable intro’s keep it real and wry: any band that smiles this much has something going for it live. They’re new enough to each other to keep surprising each other, wise enough to let each other breathe and by the time they’d climaxed with riotous grooves of ‘The Vista’ and ‘Third Fish’, looking back to the band’s earlier incarnation as the Urban Jazz Collective, band and punters alike could head into the chill, cockles suitably warmed. Soul? Whatever it is, they got it big.
– Andy Robson
– Photos by Roger Thomas