Music & Nightlife

With A-list connections and new lineup, Groove 8 is back at it with new EP

Groove 8 celebrates the release of its new “RPM” EP on Saturday at Neighborhood Theatre.
Groove 8 celebrates the release of its new “RPM” EP on Saturday at Neighborhood Theatre.

Few local musicians have resumes as impressive as long-running Charlotte jazz-funk collective Groove 8. Its alumni have gone on to work for Prince, CeeLo Green, Bette Midler and Lionel Richie, and founding percussionist Antonio Diaz has spent the past few years alternating between his job as a flight attendant and touring with Paul Simon and Cyndi Lauper.

In fact, its members have been so busy that six years have gone by since it last released new music. It was a 79-year-old fan that really got the ball rolling on the new “RPM” EP. The group celebrates its release Saturday at Neighborhood Theatre.

“He’d bought every CD we ever did and came to a concert with them all in a little bag,” Diaz recalls. “He laid them all across the table (after the show) and said, ‘Now listen, ya’ll ain’t done nothin’ in six years. I’m tired of all that online stuff. I’m a CD person. I’m old. I’m not going to be here forever. When are ya’ll going to do a new CD that I can buy?’ 

“He kind of shook me up,” Diaz adds. “And he was loud.”

Groove 8 slowly recruited Nebraska-based Will Gleason and Chicago’s Anthony Ford on trumpet and tenor sax, keyboardist Will Pinson and bassist Victor Hahn. With a new lineup solidified — and Diaz, guitarist Keith Whatley, alto saxophone player Tony McCullough and drummer Audi Jones still at the core — Groove 8 got to work.

It headlined the the Wine & Jazz Festival in Kearny, Neb., in May; and in July the group heads back to San Francisco for its annual appearance at the Fillmore Jazz Festival. It was that annual Bay Area performance that first attracted the attention of music industry royalty Quincy Jones.

“Every year we’ve played, some of the same people would come and speak to us after the show. And this one guy kept asking questions where you knew he was either a music aficionado or a musician,” McCullough says. “One day he came back and said, ‘I played your music for my friend. He liked your stuff. Give him a call.’ And he gave us this number.”

That friend turned out to be Jones, who wanted to hear more new music. In fact, a lot of music veterans have heard Groove 8. Diaz met Chic’s Nile Rodgers at a Charlotte CVS and has kept in touch with the A-list producer, while Motown impresario Berry Gordy’s daughter offered her own take on Groove 8’s sound after overhearing Diaz talking about his other job during a flight.

“She said, ‘If you all were coming up in 1975, you’d be big. You’d be on ‘Soul Train,’’” Diaz recalls.

But for all their industry contacts, McCullough and Diaz agree it needs a big booking agency to break into the touring jam band market that’s the bread and butter for peers Lettuce, Soulive and Karl Denson — all bands Groove 8 has opened for, worked with or befriended.

It hopes Las Vegas-based 300 Productions, which launches in July, can help by putting out the follow-up to “RPM Vol. 1.” It’s a new company, but Diaz feels good about it.

“It’s a small, boutique jazz label that specializes in what we do,” Diaz says. “It’s what we’ve been looking for.”

Groove 8 plays at 9 p.m. Saturday at Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. Tickets: $12-$15. Details: www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.

Other recent local releases worth checking out

“Proper Release” by Patois Counselors: Probably Bo White’s most-buzzed-about project, this experimental post-punk collective toys with sound (the guitar on “Last Heat,” for instance, imagines what an itch might sound like), while elsewhere it’s the space and atmosphere that creates rich textures.

“Waiting” by Late Bloomer: For its third album — and first for 6131 Records — the punky indie trio worked with producer/engineer Justin Pizzoferrato, who has worked with Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies. It’s drawing widespread buzz ahead of a planned June 29 release. The band celebrates that night with a show at Snug Harbor.

“Muck” by Hectorina: Longtime Charlotte songwriter Dylan Gilbert’s rock trio reigns in the theatrical tendencies (one of its past projects was a rock opera) for a more introspective album that trades on sonic creativity, rubbery bass lines and fidgety math rock and comes across as a more-personal rock opera.

“Mall Goth” by Mall Goth: One of the most theatrically committed outfits in town, the Rock Hill-based group’s winking ode to all things goth manages to inject humor and pathos into its tale of teen angst — without coming off as parody — by nailing the classic goth sound.

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