Sugarman Three

Retro Active

By Del F. CowieWhile band leader Neil Sugarman calls it "hard-hitting funky soul boogaloo music," people who have experienced the sound of the Sugarman Three may liken the experience to being transported through a time warp. The six-piece Sugarman 3 band are inspired by artists like the late Brother Jack McDuff and Lou Donaldson and the Meters, playing low down and gritty and authentic soul faithfully in a truly convincing style.

"I read many reviews saying ‘yet another reissue from Desco, pull up your bellbottoms'," says Sugarman. "It didn't bother me — it was kinda funny." It may seem like the group goes to meticulous lengths to recreate this sound, but Sugarman counters this notion suggesting that it's just a matter of plugging in, playing and capturing the results in an analogue recording environment as it was done in the past.

"A lot of new records, they kinda leave you dry with digital recording," says Sugarman. "They sound good sometimes but there's no room for imperfection. Too much stuff is over-produced, they're taking out a lot of the imagination and not allowing the listener to fill in the gaps. We'll record the sounds with a certain attitude and try to make a record that sounds like the records we really love."

True to these words, the band's latest release Soul Donkey, on the soul-preserving New York-based label Desco, is a collection of original rough and unvarnished jams, with Lou Donaldson and James Brown covers thrown in for good measure. Sugarman's sax work and Coleman Mellet's nimble guitar weave in and out of the forefront, subscribing to the Sugarman Three collective ethos.

"When we do takes we're not concerned with how the solos sound, but how the groove sounds. It almost relates to hip-hop or dance music because the grooves are hypnotic when it's played right." While he feels the group hasn't reached this trance-inducing status yet, Sugarman's comments negate the idea he may be a stuffy traditionalist. Asked if the group was open to having their big dusty beats sampled, Sugarman responds affirmatively, citing the fact that he feels that this practice has brought people back to diggin' in the crates for the originals.

As for their own records, Sugarman doesn't feel the group will get stuck in a throwback mode. "Maybe we sound old and retro in a sense, but the Sugarman Three sound like the Sugarman Three. No record from that time sounds the way Soul Donkey does. The band is kind of degressing in a sense because the first record [Sugar's Boogaloo] is more like a boogaloo jazz record and almost has a Blue Note feel to it. Soul Donkey implies a little bit more funk and soul. I think the next one is gonna be a little bit rougher."

Focused on forging the group's own identity while acknowledging their inspirations, Sugarman is seeking to reconcile the music of the past with the present. "I don't want to be pinned as a retro band," he says. "It's just music that I'm involved in and am listening to. It's timeless. There was a golden age between '65 and '72 and there were many great soul and funk records that came out of that time. We're playing it now and people are dancing to it."

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Article Published In Feb 00 Issue