Fertile Ground with Brownman & Gruvasylum and DJs Chocolate and Dalia at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Friday (January 27), 9 pm. $25. 416-777-1777, www.fgliveintoronto.com. Rating: NNNNN
Baltimore's Fertile Ground may have arrived on the scene a few years too late to cash in on the soul jazz fad, but since artists like Quantic Soul Orchestra and Breakestra are moving beyond funk while those like Amp Fiddler and Madlib continue exploring the possibilities of funky Rhodes-backed grooves, Fertile Ground suddenly seem well positioned for their big break.
Not that the group's main man, keyboardist James Collins, has been losing any sleep over the relative fashionability of Fertile Ground's sound. He sees their spiritually uplifting jams as part of a continuum stretching back to the 60s.
While their connection to the work of Herbie Hancock, Jon Lucien, Weldon Irvine and Gil Scott-Heron is clear from their albums like Perception, Seasons Change and 2004's Black Is..., it hasn't always been quite so apparent how Fertile Ground relate to what's happening in clubs today -- at least until this past year, when everyone from Osunlade and Povo to Nicola Conte and Jneiro Jarel seemed to be lining up for a crack at remixing a Fertile Ground track.
"When we started getting songs remixed, I couldn't understand the appeal. I knew people liked them, because they were buying them and dancing to them in clubs, but they really didn't do much for me. I guess I was married to the original versions of the songs. I looked at remixes more as a business thing that might open some doors for us than as an artistic endeavour.
"It wasn't until this year, when I began to DJ myself, that I started listening to what was being done with a different ear, like, 'Oh yeah, I can dig this.' I got it. Then I went back and listened to all the remixes and thought, 'Wow, these guys are geniuses!' I mean, what Kaidi Tatham did with Spiritual War was amazing both musically and sonically, and the Spinna mix of Live In The Light is incredible!
"Each time I pull one of those remixes out and drop it in a DJ set, I gain a new appreciation for what those producers have done, and it gives me a different perspective on what we do as Fertile Ground. That's really had an effect on my direction as a composer."
Since Fertile Ground develop their new material onstage, we'll get a preview of what's in store for their forthcoming album on Friday at the El Mocambo.
"Our direction continues to be forward. We're always trying to do something we haven't done before. What we don't do is set up goals for ourselves like 'For this next record we're going to try a couple of hiphop songs.'
"We play together often and we're always trying out new material. We listen to how people respond and also take into consideration how we feel when we're playing it, which all feeds into how our music is played, arranged and produced once we get into the studio. For us, it's all about recapturing the feeling of that shared live experience."