Jesse Gannon doesn't look like he would have a voice suited for classic soul, but he does and so much more. On his webpage he jokes, "If you don't want to be put into a genre, create one," which is exactly what he accomplished on his Loud Label album debut, "Future Vintage." On first listen the album harkens back to classic keyboard-based, funky soul, but delves deeper into tones of jazz, rock and a taste of everything in between.
Along with his rich, smooth vocals, Gannon is no slouch on the keys, and he's also a sharp songwriter. His melodies give a solid base for the players to run with what they do best. Improvisation reigned but never overshadowed the core Gannon created with unexpected tunes and lyrics that are at times playful, longing and alluring, and always loaded with strong imagery.
The album production is so tight and complex that it risked being difficult to render live. While the performances remained true to their recorded version, there was plenty of breathing room for Gannon and his team of 13 musicians to expand the songs, building them to fit the mood and each player's virtuosic talent.
Both on record and during Sunday's performance, Gannon eschewed the traditional band format of a few players who do everything together. Acting as the leader, he selected the best player for each part. Need a jazz flavor for "Times are Tough?" Bring in Grover Stewart for brushed drums. Then switch to Patrick Flynn for the rock-driven basis of "I Can't Stop," paired with Steve Johnston's electric guitar.
The band transcends genre labels with this rock foundation layered under Gannon's rhythm and blues style of keyboards, ultimately leading to horn solos from Christopher McBride on alto sax and Keith Moyer on trumpet. Later, McBride and Campbell went even further into jazz complexities at the end of "Disillusion Girl." Not cheesy "cool jazz," but the real deal, music created on the fly with skill and feeling.
This is St. Louis music, a blend of styles that originated on this turf. This music is the result of sprouting from the soil that grew Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and Johnnie Johnson. This wasn't lost on an audience enthusiastic for the complexity and appreciative of the more intricate aspects of the performance that are difficult to pigeonhole.
After calling musicians from the audience to take part, Gannon joked, "And now I'd like to invite anyone who has good jokes to tell while we tune guitars." An operation of this level takes a bit of extra time. It was worth the wait.
Two-thirds through the show, people took to the dance floor for "The Rest of the Story" and were rewarded with a huge breakdown at the end before easing into the Brubakeresque interpretation of "Tenderly."
"Umbrella (She's a Lady)" brought the band back to a four-piece ensemble that sounded as big and full as the night's earlier incarnations. Bassist Teddy Brookins gave the songs roots, while Johnston's acoustic guitar solo provided the blossoms at the end of a living, breathing performance.