Sokoband: WLUR-FM, Lexington, VA
Seventy-three minutes of crisp and classy jazz from this veteran Charlottesville trio. These players essentially crafted this album in the mid-nineties and released it as In November Sunlight, but after after going their separate ways for awhile, the members of Sokoband refashioned those tunes and added a couple more. Tracks range from sunny up-tempo fusion ("Coast to Coast") to rock-infused ballads ("Lullaby for E"), with at least one incredible drum solo to boot ("Energy Changed"). Dave Matthews, LeRoi Moore, Tim Reynolds, and David Darling guest star, among a whole host of others.
Sokoband: Matt Franciscovich, Relix Magazine
Veteran instrumental jazz combo Sokoband, established by composer Michael Sokolowski (piano) and Houston Ross (bass), delivers a reworking of songs off its 1997 debut In November Sunlight, as well as a few previously unreleased compositions. It features an unearthed take by LeRoi Moore on its title track, as well as appearances by Dave Matthews, Tim Reynolds, Steve Kimock, John D'Earth and Greg Howard among 11 others, plus new drumming by seasoned session man Nir Z. Songs like the world-influenced "Jiriki" and piano-laced ballads like "Body Home" and "Lullaby For E" are mixed with ten-minute prog-fusion journeys ("Energy Charged") and upbeat improv sessions ("Coast To Coast," "And Yet Your Smile") that are surprisingly contemporary 15 years after they were originally released.
Sokoband: Jason Randall Smith, freelance music journalist, blogger, podcaster
The term jam band is insufficient in describing what Sokoband is all about. It's a term that carries a certain crunchiness, evoking images of tie-dyed shirt-wearing festival attendees traveling across the country to see their favorite ensemble play. This is not to say that Sokoband isn t worthy of such devotion. Playing together since 1990, this Charlottesville, Virginia-based trio has fine-tuned their ability to not just perform compositions, but to play within them as well. Their skill for improvisation allows them to color outside the lines of selections without straying too far from a song s original theme.
Michael Sokolowski serves as the band's pianist and main composer while Houston Ross holds down bass and guitar duties. Percussionist Nir Z rounds out the trio on the drums, making for a tight-knit harmonic core. A pair of tracks on the band s self-titled album focuses solely on the threesome: Lullaby for E and Half Sleep. The former is a tranquil and touching instrumental while the latter finds them meandering over a locked groove. It is within Half Sleep that you can hear Sokolowski and Ross dance around the song s main pattern through their performances while Nir Z provides the rhythmic foundation.
A collection of guest artists appear throughout the album, lending superb musicianship to their respective cuts and lifting Sokolowski s compositions beyond the confines of piano/bass/drums arrangements. Jiriki makes this immediately apparent, as each musician in turn converses within a Latin rock framework. Sokolowski s piano accents atop Nir Z's highly expressive drumming is one of the highlights of this selection. Jiriki is the only song on this album to feature vocals and it certainly doesn t hurt to have Dave Matthews singing the lyrics. His appearance is brief, but very effective, and by the end of the song his voice has become another instrument offering its own perspective on the conversation.
This is not the first time that Sokoband has crossed paths with the Dave Matthews Band. In fact, several members of the band appeared on their 1997 debut album, In November Sunlight. The entire contents of that album are revisited for Sokoband s latest and saxophonist LeRoi Moore absolutely shines on In November Sunlight. His solo is reflective to the point where it tugs at your heart; emotion pours out of every note he plays. Moore switches from soprano sax to tenor on And Yet Your Smile, giving him a robust and romantic tone for this smooth jazz number. On the flip side of things, Energy Changed is the sonic about face of the album, a power quartet featuring blistering guitar work from Mike Colley. Co-written by Sokolowski and Colley, it is easily one of the strongest collective performances on the album, a shining example of jazz/rock fusion at its finest.
Sokoband explore a range of moods on this album and master them all through exceptional musicianship and the full-bodied compositions of Michael Sokolowski. Hopefully the Dave Matthews Band connection will garner more interest for this ensemble, but make no mistake...this trio clearly stands on its own merit. That which the Charlottesville live music scene has birthed will not stay secret for very long. Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
The third release by Charlottesville-based Sokoband is a step in a new direction from their previously mellow origins. The band took the songs from their debut album, In November Sunlight, and re-recorded and mastered them for what is overall a huge improvement over already great songs.
In November Sunlight was a very jazzy, smooth album that could be described as "easy listening." The new versions of these songs really pick up the pace.
"Jiriki," somewhat of a classic song from this band which features Dave Matthews on vocals, used to be a light, vaguely tropical 5/4 jam with chords similar to "Take Five." The redone version of this adds rock 'n' roll flair, with electric guitar spicing it up and much more lively drums. Over the past years, Dave's voice has declined in some areas and improved in others, and I have to admit, on this track I prefer him in 1996. Still, it's wonderful, and would be fine if I hadn't been spoiled by the old version.
"Energy Change" went through an energy change, and was thoughtfully renamed to "Energy Changed" on the new album. Just like "Jiriki," it gets a heavy dose of electric guitar to bring it closer to rock. In the middle of the song, it even borders on techno. The new recording has a revised baseline which opens up the "sound space" for these new instruments. In addition to this we also find a new transition into the double-time section which makes it seem like a segue into a new song rather than the continuation. This could be either a pro or con, but I like it. Note: The band recently tweeted me mentioning that this is actually the old (1979) version of the song. So it changed back, not forth.
Added to "Coast to Coast" are horns or saxophones (I don't know how to tell the difference). The old version of this song was somewhat repetitive; the melody didn't really "pick up." In its new slot on the album, as opener, it gets it going with solid horns/sax, then mellows down to become like the In November Sunlight version. The sax solo on this track gives the listener a real feeling of adventure. It's exciting.
"And Yet Your Smile" is one of two all-new songs on this album. It's very percussion based. Perhaps I'm just impatient, but I feel like this is a bit drawn out. I would love to see it as a 1-2 minute intro to "Jiriki" or maybe "Body Home."
The other new track, "Nightfall," is also a percussion song. This song, while not particularly outstanding as-is, is a perfect finisher for the album that really cools down the ears well. There are 5 more tracks on this album that I didn't get to, but trust me, they're all great. This album is one of the better ones I've purchased in a while. It has more guests than band members (17 vs 3), but this gives the songs somewhat of a "communal" feel that is nice to hear. All in all, it's a solid album and is a great introduction to this band.
Because I'm reposting this at anythingbutipod, I have to add this section. Non-tech folks, you can skip this paragraph. Let me start off by saying that I listened to this through on my RE0s, which are considered to be fairly revealing headphones, along with mt Cowon S9. I ripped the CD to LAME VBR V0 mp3, which is considered the best setting for mp3. It averages about 230 kbps, but it is VBR, meaning on complicating sections it will jump up to 320k so as low as 32k for silence. To 99% of the population, this sounds exactly like the CD. The CD itself, according to the back, was "manufactured from a solid glass master." I'm not entirely sure was this means, but I presume that a glass master is like a vinyl record, but made from glass, thus overcoming the various problems with vinyl. In addition, I ordered the limited edition copy, which is numbered and signed and costs $2 more. I did this more to support the band than for any other reason, but I think that because mine is numbered 15/25 it is the 15th one made. If my logic is correct, and we assume that, like vinyl, glass will degrade with playing, just at a slower rate. Which leads me to believe that I have the 15th best version of this CD. Sweet.
OK, laymen, you can start reading now. The music is mastered, well...masterfully. I usually have problems with the way bass guitar/upright is handled in production, but they nailed it. Just the right amount of twang, and the right amount. (that was a period). With as much brass as they have on "Coast to Coast," one would think that instrument separation would be an issue. In my opinion, the RE0s don't have very good instrument separation, but on this album, the instruments are synchronized so well that I can't distinguish them very easily, despite being channel-split. So, uh, kudos to the musicians for playing in such perfect time that you fooled my ears/headphones.
Dynamic compression is a big issue in music today. This album has a bit of it, whether intentionally or not. It could just be that they didn't choose to have anything stand out that much. I wouldn't know. The compression isn't that bad; you can easily forget about it. Thankfully, the volume isn't jacked up too much; Replaygain tells it to do about -3.5. So yes, it's twice as loud as standard, but a lot of stuff today is as much as 32 times too loud at -15. (15/3=5, 2^5=32). So, good job. Could be better, but as long as your above average, I can't complain. Yet.
So that's that. You can buy the CD as well as download at Amazon and CDBaby, just search for "sokoband." However, to maximize the band's profits, I recommend buying direct from their website, sokoband.com. From their website you can also subscribe to the emailing list and stream the entire album for free. That's also the only place to get the limited edition copy, which is still available at the moment. Thanks for supporting independent music.
Sokoband: Dennis O'Hagan, musician/producer, Voodoo Loons, Cincinnati, Ohio
This is a great new album by my bud Mike Sokolowski, who played some keys on our last Loons album.
Mike is a long time fixture of the Charlottesville music (mostly jazz) scene.
The band used to be called Soko, but they recently changed it to Sokoband as there seems to be a lot of other Sokos out there. Anyway, the core band is Mike, an amazing bassist named Houston Ross, and Nir Z on drums. A lot of notable heavy weights sitting in on this one... Steve Kimock, the late LeRoi Moore (who played with Mike and guitarist Tim Reynolds in a band for years before co-founding the Dave Matthews Band), cellist David Darling, and a host of others. Nir Z has a long credit list of his own, too... Chris Cornell, Joss Stone, actually drummed for Genesis on a tour, I'm told...
Hooks and I did some work on the track called Jiriki, which also has an amazing dance of guitars via Kimock and Tim Reynolds, and a vocal improv by Dave Matthews (only vocal on the album, I think).
Not sure what genre you'd put this in.... definitely a heavy jazz influence, so maybe fusion, maybe simply jazz.... regardless, it's great music, really great album, and recorded beautifully. Also one of the best sounding drum recordings ever, in my opinion.
Sokoband: Wildy's World, music blog
Sokoband (formerly Soko) is a Charlottesville, Virginia based Jazz duo that formed in 1990. Comprised of Michael Sokolowski (piano) and Houston Ross (bass), Sokoband has worked with a number of top name performers over the years. In 1996, Sokoband released their debut album, In November Sunlight. The album featured guest appearances from Dave Matthews, LeRoi Moore and Tim Reynolds, and sold very well for an instrumental jazz album because of their presence. Sokoband wasn't happy with the album as presented however, and undertook remaking it over the past two years. The result is Sokoband, which includes all eight tracks from In November Sunlight as well as two new tunes. Matthews, Reynolds and Moore came back for this new project. Additional guests include Steve Kimock (guitar), Mike Colley (guitar), David Cast (sax), John Zias (guitar) and David Darling (cello).
Opening with the frenetic synth of "Coast To Coast," Sokoband creates a danceable pop offering steeped in Herbie Hancock style jazz/pop. It's an enjoyable tune that allows the musicians to explore their own riffs and inspirations while sticking closely to the main theme. "Jiriki" has a Latin jazz feel, with acoustic and electric guitars trading riffs in against the tasteful waterfall backdrop created by the piano and percussion. "In November Sunlight" sounds like film score music, with Sokolowski developing a pervasive and memorable theme on piano. As other instruments come in they somewhat obscure the theme, but it resurfaces from time to time out of the depths to remind us all that it's there.
Sokoband launches into a ten-minute plus progressive jazz/rock Odyssey in the form of "Energy Changed," playing with dark subtexts and distortion around a guitar-led theme that's as unsettled as it is iconic. It's not Pink Floyd, but could have spun from a Gilmour-inspired haze. "And Yet Your Smile," one of the new tracks this time around, plays like a 1970's easy listening jazz tune, with saxophone out front. While it's a decent listen, it is driven by a very different writing style than the older material. Where the older songs have a fresh edgy feel a decade and a half after they were written, "And Yet Your Smile" sounds tired. "Half Sleep" is a repetitive expedition, holding space for the closing number, "Nightfall". "Nightfall" is the other new track on Sokoband; a moody variegated composition that dwells in ambience while it slowly progresses through an almost free-form melody.
Jazz fusion fans will love Sokoband. Hard-core Dave Matthews Band fans will snap it up (especially if they don't have 1996's In November Sunlight), but this is hardly a mainstream album. Sokoband is inventive and original at times, formulaic and derivative at others. The newer material, while relevant, just doesn't fit well with the original 8 songs. The original material gets new life here, mostly successfully. Sokoband is complex and highly musical when on their game.
Sokoband: Gary Hill, writer, music journalist
The easiest way to describe the sound of Sokoband in a short phrase would be “smooth fusion grooves.” That works to a degree, but really their sound is a lot more diverse than that. In fact, one of the things that keep this disc from reaching a higher degree of perfection is that at times it seems that Sokoband can’t decide where they want to focus their musical energies. Pair that with the fact that a lot of the music seems that it would be at home in the background and you’ll have nailed the only two complaints about the CD.
One need look no further than the opener, “Coast to Coast,” to find an example of the varying qualities of the album. It definitely fits into a category that one might consider “background music.” That said, there are some extremely impressive performances by all involved. In terms of fusion being too tight a constriction, that is shown on “Coast to Coast,” too. While overall the song is in keeping with a fusion motif that’s not that far removed from the sounds of Pat Metheny, a guitar solo much like something Steve Howe would play with Yes brings it more into the progressive rock realm. A track like “Your Steps Alone” stays firmly focused on the smooth jazz elements. Even, then, they manage to pull a bit of soulful groove into it.
“Jiriki” is the odd man out on the set. While apparently the group understood that an album of all instrumentals can become a bit boring, the way they solved it seems to fit with the rest of the set like a square peg in a round hole. A big chunk of the piece features the same kind of jazz found throughout, but it suddenly changes out to something that feels like a Dave Matthews song. Of course, the fact that Mr. Matthews himself provides the vocals could have something to do with that. While it’s entertaining, it just seems a bit contrived. Arguably the fifth track, “Energy Charged” is the strongest piece. As the title suggests it has a lot more energy than the rest of the music. It moves out into some rather progressive rock like territory (references to Yes are again appropriate), too. It’s one place where the disc doesn’t seem content to sit in the background. In fact, it works out towards some seriously hard rocking territory that will likely catch the attention of most listeners.
Another highlight takes things in a different direction on “Body Home,” which has a mellow jazzy groove that’s not that far removed from some of Sting’s solo work. The addition of symphonic instrumentation is a nice touch, too. An even mellower piece, “Lullaby for E,” stands out because of the beautiful melody and overall tone. It has a slow jazz tempo and the piano drives much of the melodic structure. While it’s sedate it manages to stand out of the shadows because that melody line is compelling and catchy. They bring in more layers of energy and instrumentation as they carry on, but the song is never really reinvented, but rather intensified.
Overall, this is a good release from Sokoband. It has some moments that are extremely strong, and it also would be nice to hear a little more demanding a musical presence from these guys. Overall, this is a release that will entertain fans of mellow jazz, although “Jiriki” might lead to some head-scratching confusion. It’s not all that highly recommended for serious listening, though. It just tends to fade a bit too far away. Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)