Gary Meek Debuts 'Monterey Groove' on August 27

His recordings and performances have ranged from Jeff Lorber to Brian Bromberg to Green Day.

By: Jul. 23, 2021
Gary Meek Debuts 'Monterey Groove' on August 27

When virtuoso saxophonist and keyboardist Gary Meek assembled his new band, it was never meant to reach listeners much beyond the borders of his adopted home of Monterey, California. But then two unexpected things happened: first, the band gelled far more than Meek could have predicted; and second, the pandemic struck before they could play their first gig.

"We had no intention of making a record," Meek says of the quartet, which he devised in collaboration with guitarist/producer Michael Lent (Barry Manilow, Jeffrey Osborne). "Michael and I came up with the idea of putting together a fusion band that would sound really good live, because the local scene here in the Monterey Peninsula doesn't really have anything like that. We actually called it Top Secret for a while because we didn't tell anybody about it."

Meek's own prolific career includes more than 200 recordings, including notable collaborations with drummer Dave Weckl and a 20-year stint with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira. His recordings and performances have ranged from Jeff Lorber to Brian Bromberg to Green Day.

With opportunities for live performance and studio work suddenly non-existent, Meek decided to introduce the world to this stellar new band while revisiting a number of original compositions from his rich catalog. The project soon grew beyond the core quartet, which features Lent along with bassist Robert Wider and drummer Skylar Campbell.

With the album by necessity being recorded remotely, opportunities arose for guest appearances by some of Meek's long-term collaborators, including drummer Dave Weckl, vocalist Flora Purim and percussionist Airto Moreira. He also offers a glimpse of the music's promising future through such next-generation musicians as saxophonist Anthony Paolini and trumpeter Akili Bradley.

The result is the vibrant Monterey Groove, a stunning set of modern fusion that both celebrates the musicianship to be discovered in the beachside community and draws inspiration from the area's natural beauty and welcoming population. The album, due out August 27, 2021 via Autumn Hill Records, includes tunes from throughout Meek's 30-year career as a leader, along with new songs written to showcase collaborators new and old.

JAZZIZ has the track premiere for the album's new single, "Power Station."

The album's opening track, "For a Long Time," dates back at least as far as 1995, when it was recorded for Meek's second album, Time One. This new recording features Lent and Wider with a guest appearance by Weckl, with whom Meek has toured and recorded extensively - instigated by the drummer. "I put a video [of the song] up on Facebook," Meek recalls. "When Dave saw it he said, 'Man, that's a cool tune - why don't you send me the tracks without the drums and let me have a crack at it?' So he took all the tracks and of course he made it into a great Dave Weckl track."

Weckl also appears on Meek's funky "Move Out!" albeit in vintage form. Meek originally wrote the tune while on tour with the Dave Weckl Band sometime in the early 2000s. He recorded a demo with Weckl on drums, but the song sat on the shelf. Revisiting the demo for Monterey Groove, Meek liked what he heard and decided to complete the tune, with his and Weckl's original parts.

Fortunately Weckl had made a stereo drum track that was record quality, so his and Meek's 18-year old performances are paired with new tracks recorded by Lent, Wider and young trumpeter Akili Bradley along with new keyboard parts by Meek.

The lovely and optimistic "The Hope," written by Michel Colombier, reunites Meek with Purim and Moreira, another result of Meek's Covid-era Facebook videos. "Flora's in Brazil, but she saw my video of 'The Hope' and said, 'Hey, if you want a vocalist, I'm available.' Of course, she sounds beautiful because she's Flora." Purim contributed lyrics to the tune, while Moreira adds his trademark array of coloristic percussion.

In its combination of funk, soul, Brazilian accents and fusion, the title track vividly captures the feeling of the bright sun and Pacific breeze that Meek discovered when he relocated from Los Angeles a dozen years ago. "I love the Monterey area," Meek says. "The reason I came in the first place was because my wife Maureen and I wanted to be closer to our newborn granddaughter. So Maureen said, 'I'm moving to Monterey and you're welcome to join me.' But there's definitely a Monterey feeling, and it comes from the people here."

Meek's granddaughter is the titular dedicatee of the album's tender closing track, "Jenna's Song." On the other side of the stylistic spectrum is the hard-driving "Power Station," a blistering funk tune written in collaboration with Lent and propelled in part by percussionist John Nava. Meek's tunes also range from the shimmering "Midnight Sky" to the agitated "Bosphorus Blues" (another reprisal from Time One), from the sleek contours of "Horizon" to the swaggering "Cannery Row" to the soulful pop of "Shuffle This."

The latter spotlights some of the rising stars in Meek's orbit. Trumpeter Akili Bradley rose through the ranks of the Monterey Jazz Festival's Next Generation program, while tenor saxophonist Anthony Paolini began studying with Meek while still in middle school. "When I started with Anthony he could hardly play at all," Meek reflects, "and now he's just killing it."

Whether he's capturing the sounds of his lush surroundings or creating them, Meek has conjured an alluring and funky spirit on Monterey Groove that suggests there's something exhilaratingly inspiring about the area.


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