Since the mid-90s, live venues have been slowly disappearing as more bar and club owners have discovered that it's cheaper to pay a DJ. For a while it was looking like dance music might push live music out of the spotlight.
Musicians have responded by learning from DJ culture and integrating some of its formal elements into the live context. The Monkey Mob are a recent addition to the live jazz house scene, and have held down a Monday-night residency at the Lava Lounge since the beginning of the summer, slowly building a following.
Unlike most of the other live house bands, the Monkey Mob aren't attempting to imitate any specific style. They come across more like an experimental, psychedelic funk band than anything else. At times they fall into the jam band funk rut, but they always emerge out of any cliché before it becomes annoying -- before you know it, the groove has gone from P-Funk-style riffing to spacey Bitch's Brew-era Miles Davis freakouts.
The audience is correspondingly eclectic, everyone from old men and neo-hippies to hipsters seems to enjoy them. Factor in the pay-what-you-can cover and DJ Sam Fleming's hiphop sets and you've got a solid way to spend a Monday night.
Tuesday nights, Lava hosts another pay-what-you-can live music night -- Shugga, a conscious soul/jazz band featuring well-loved local vocalist Divine Earth Essence and musicians from various local bands.
The lineup stays fluid, since it depends on who can make it each week -- sometimes Katie Burgess sits in on vocals if Divine Earth Essence is out of town -- but with musicians of this calibre, the quality is consistently good.
In between sets, DJ Roland Deschamps provides soulful house grooves that complement the live R&B surprisingly well.
Most of the selections are cover versions of well-known songs. Thankfully, the band reworks the arrangements enough to keep it interesting. Often the covers improve on the originals, breathing new life into songs that were overly restrained on the recorded versions due to the lack of real musicians.
Considering that this is a weekly event, Shugga manages to pull a fairly good-sized crowd of good-looking people. Check it out if you like Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu and prefer your soul with a bit of jazz.
abacus adds up
Abacus holds the honour of being the only Toronto-based deep house producer to get a music video into rotation on Much. In fact, he's most likely the only deep house producer to make that leap.
Considering the prestige of the international labels he's recorded for, it's odd that he's still DJing every Wednesday at Ciao Edie's. The no-cover weekly is decidedly loungy -- it feels like someone playing you their favourite records in a basement rec room, very intimate and mellow. It's nice to be reminded that house can be listened to as well as danced to. Abacus knows how to balance well-known tracks with undiscovered gems, and his mixing is tight and smooth. Drinks can be a bit pricey here, but the absence of a cover charge makes up for it.