Release Date:
October 27, 2009

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

When I was hosting a Sunday morning brunch show, I used to get whispered phone calls and sneaky emails from people who were listening in church. I guess someone else in the family wanted them to go, and they couldn't say "no." So they sat there surrounded by the spirit of the church service while some solid contemporary jazz was sneaking into one or both ears. That's what Euge Groove has done on Sunday Morning.  Heavily influenced by his interest in contemporary Gospel music and an introspective period of time he spent when he was on his own during an overseas tour, this album mixes and melds the distinctive flavors of these two styles into a spirit infused set of powerful contemporary jazz music.

There has been a long tradition of jazz in church and gospel music influences in jazz.  Coltrane played in church.  The whole heritage of New Orleans jazz is tied into various houses of worship.  In our own contemporary jazz circle musicians like Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler, and Tim Bowman have released overtly gospel projects, and numerous musicians you see on stage at a given concert are heading home on Sunday morning to play in church. The difference between those albums and this one is that this one puts strains of gospel flavor into songs that are pure contemporary jazz.  This gives the whole project a spiritual spin and a Sunday morning vibe that allows the listener to feel it from whatever path their own spiritual inclinations take them, or just settle into some solid songwriting and sax to-die-for if spirituality is not their thing.

The music on Sunday Morning continues in the direction he was exploring on a large part of 2007's chart-topping Born 2 Groove, which still has a single climbing the radio charts.  On that album, he started to move away from programmed music.  He used live players in the studio, and instead of relying on the usual LA session  heavy hitters he brought in a group of musicians who had contemporary jazz track records, but were also steeped in church music.  The result was a tangible warmth and depth that separated it from the usual high-gloss smooth jazz fare.  He uses most of the same musicians on this one.  Paul Brown is again co-producing and playing guitar.  Keyboardist Tracy Carter, guitarist Jubu Smith, bassist Cornelius Mims and percussionist Lenny Castro are back, with Oscar Seaton coming in on drums, and Philippe Saisse providing some string arrangements. Groove either wrote or co-wrote all the material except Dax Reynosa's soulful vocal track, "Yes."  Put the headphones on or turn it up loud and it sounds like you're front row center with a live band that is really connecting.

 If you've spent any time in church, whether southern clapboard or urban mega, the twists these melodies take  will feel instantly familiar.  The way they are submerged in Groove's jazzed up R&B influences will perk up your ears. The title track, which is starting to get some radio play, illustrates this perfectly.  A Memphis soul opening makes way for a jazzy verse from Euge, then the chorus that kicks in is straight out of the choir loft, and these three threads weave over Smith's sneaky wah-wah's and an old school Fender Rhodes line from Carter.  "All For You" sounds like a song you already know even though no part of the song is actually reminiscent of another song.  This time he's bringing a gospel flavored hook into a bossa-nova tinged rhythm. "On Your Knees" has a more traditional smooth jazz vibe.  He is trading licks with Paul Brown, who sheds the hollow-body Wes-bound guitar and delivers some Golub-ish electric chops.  All these songs have the band playing tight and loose at the same time, the way only a truly cohesive group who are really connecting can. Groove is upfront playing it open and free, exploring the full range of both soprano and alto saxes and delivering some impressive improvisation.  The real showpiece of the album is "The Gospel Truth."  It's a power ballad that opens with Carter's acoustic piano and some contemplative sax from Euge, then just soars over Saisse's string arrangement.

The songs on Sunday Morning were written while he was in Europe on a leg of the Tina Turner tour that was lengthy and left him alone, across the ocean from his family, and with lots of down time.  He went within, immersing himself in the songs and the feelings that brought them into fruition.  The result is an album that connects on levels that can't be put into words.  Put it on and you will, as they say, “feel it.”  It's music you can just melt into.  It's music that will take you home.

Here's a sound clip from the interview: Euge talking about the sessions and the song “The Gospel Truth”