Any area resident of Germanic extraction can tell you that souse is a weird, gelatinous meat product with a strange appeal. When former members of Final Exit were trying to come up with a name for their new Jazz combo four years ago, someone suggested Sauce, but it morphed into Souse, and the name clicked.
"It's kind of funky and nasty and all," percussionist Gary "Stretch" Boggs says. "But it gels."
The current line-up of Souse (Boggs, guitarist Robert Flury, bassist Craig Daniels, drummer Ryan Moore, keyboardist Peter Nienaber, trombonist Nick McKay, saxophonist Al Frierson and trumpeter Walt Azagba) agree that the name reflects many of the qualities they love about the band and its sound. Interweaving elements of Jazz, Funk and Fusion in sinewy combinations that are equally defined by compositional exactitude and improvisational explorations, Souse offers the same odd attraction of diverse tastes as its namesake.
When Souse originally assembled, the members' general consensus was to maintain the sonic identity of their previous groups (including Medulla Gumbo, Sole Taxi, Travelin' Barefoot and Baoku & Image Afrobeat Band) without concentrating on their Fusion roots.
"Souse was born out of the ashes of Final Exit, which was a more hardcore Fusion band," says Flury. "When we put this band together, my vision was to keep some of that Fusion aspect but to make it more accessible. We still have a lot of that Fusion edge, but I think our tunes now have a solid groove that anyone can relate to."
Since Souse has been together (in varying lineups), the band has notched a number of significant benchmarks, including opening for David Sanborn and Victor Wooten and garnering a pair of CEA nominations for Best Jam Band. The one goal Souse hadn't yet reached was finally chalked up with the mid-December 2007 release of their first album, Push, which the band actually began work on almost three years ago.
"We recorded the initial tracks and our drummer left and we got Ryan in the mix," Flury says. "There was a delay because we wanted Ryan to be comfortable. When we picked it back up, we liked the way Ryan was doing it and how the songs had developed over time, so went back and re-recorded some of those initial tracks."
Push displays Souse's many creative facets, moving seamlessly from Jazz traditions to Funk foundations to Fusion innovations as the band effectively blends, expands and absorbs the dizzying array of influences of its individual members.
"I call it seasoning," Boggs says, laughing. "As a percussionist, I put in a little fatback, a little salt and pepper. And a little souse. Souse and beans." "Everybody plays their own thing," McKay says. "Bob will bring in a tune and it just builds from there. There might be some direction given, but for the most part, everybody seems to be on the same page." That same-page mentality might be Souse's greatest strength. Possessing an almost innate sense of a song's architecture as it develops within the group — whether original or unique cover arrangement — Souse members don't waste valuable time resetting their fundamentals. They head straight for the groove.
"We work real hard to make sure our songs have melody and direction and can tell a story and go somewhere," Daniels says. "It's not just seven guys up there jamming."
One of the most obvious points of pride for Souse is the diversity of its membership. And although they recognize the group's physical differences — black, white, younger, older — they're more vested in the qualities they share, reflected in the way they work as a unit.
"The band all has input," Flury says. "Someone brings a tune to the table and everybody adds their part. Ryan will add a signature drum part or Nick might add to the melody or do a horn arrangement."
As Push gains in sales and radio airplay (the disc is available at shows and will soon be available through their Web site at www.souse-music.com), Souse is increasing their local presence with regular gigs at the storied Greenwich Tavern and various other venues around the area. As they expand into regional shows, they're already thinking ahead to their next album.
"A live CD idea has been tossed around," Moore says. "It would be a nice contrast since the last one was so produced and slick."
"I've heard people say, 'Your CD's great, but you guys are 10 times better live," Nienaber says. "I've heard that."
"I have, too," McKay says. "It was Stretch."
SOUSE plays Saturday at the Glendale Community Center and May 9 at the Southgate House. Get details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.