Organist Beau Sasser and drummer Bill Carbone spent several years as the other two-thirds of the late legendary soul-jazz guitarist Melvin Sparks’ trio. At first, most nights were marked by Sparks’ distinctive brand of constructive criticism, both on stage and off. But Beau and Bill listened and learned, and soon the three developed an undeniable chemistry.
Sparks was always planning for the future, and he frequently played the band demos of songs he wanted to record or other tracks—everything from Jimmy Smith to Zapp and Roger—that he thought would be good live. Sparkplug is Sasser and Carbone’s way of paying tribute to Sparks by performing the songs that he wrote and on which he played during his 45 year career as well as imagining what else he might do if he was still here.
Melvin liked it funky, and the addition of saxophonist/EWI/vocoder whiz David Davis and percussionist Jamemurrell Stanley—both frequent guests on Melvin Sparks Band gigs—definitely helps keep it that way. Because Melvin Sparks is irreplaceable, Sparkplug will not have a permanent guitarist. Instead, the group will feature various guitarists that each pay tribute in a unique way. Thus far the group has worked with Johnny Trama (Jesse Dee, Nate Wilson), Steve Fell (Akashic Record), Ryan Hommel (Play on Brother Band, Seth Glier), and Tim Palmieri (Kung Fu, The Breakfast) and Tony Lee.
Ryan Hommel is featured on this recording, adding a personal take with a decidedly Sparkian flavor to the tracks.
Recorded May 1, 2011. Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Andrew Fogliano at Wesleyan University. Photos and design by Genevieve Gaignard.
A Bit about Melvin Sparks:
Barbeque-funk, Soul-jazz or Acid Jazz: look up those terms in Webster's dictionary and there you should find a picture of Melvin Sparks, the guitarist who helped put all those styles together. Sparks left his Houston, Texas home in 1964 as a member of The Upsetters, a R&B group that backed singers such as Little Richard, Johhny Taylor, Lee Dorsey, Sam Cooke, and many others. Sparks hit the New York City jazz scene in the late 1960s, making quick friends with fellow-guitarists Grant Green and George Benson and embarking on career peppered with recordings and performances with a host of jazz’s greatest musicians including Jack McDuff, David "Fathead" Newman, Jimmy McGriff, Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Hank Crawford, Reuben Wilson and “Big” John Patton. All told, Sparks has recorded seven albums as a leader and played on nearly 150 others for legendary jazz labels such as Blue Note and Prestige Records.
About Sparkplug’s Members:
Organist BEAU SASSER hit the music scene at a young age, traversing the snowy highways of Colorado for both All-State high school band gigs and shows with legends like John Denver and Jimmy Ibbotson of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. In the mid-90s Sasser headed east for a stint at Berklee College of Music and soon found himself back on the highways with the successful jamband Uncle Sammy. Though he’d tinkled ivories and various plastic synth keys previously, around the year 2000 Sasser began performing almost exclusively on the Hammond Organ. In addition to his tenure as Melvin Sparks’ preferred organist Sasser leads his own trio whose residency at Bishop’s Lounge in Northampton, MA is now in its fourth year, performs with the funk group Akashic Record, and freelances like crazy. Touring throughout the United States and internationally, Beau has performed with with Maceo Parker (James Brown), Alan Evans (Soulive), Nikki Glaspie (Beyonce), Michael Feingold (Erykah Badu), Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa) and jazz greats Fareed Haque and Melvin Sparks.
Born in the suburban cultural vacuum of CT, drummer BILL CARBONE managed to graduate from his initial fascination with the dramatic plinkings of Rush and Yes to a broader palette of loves. Recently he’s played jazz and boogaloo with guitarist Melvin Sparks, funk with organist Beau Sasser’s trio, R&B and jam-rock with Max Creek, the Matt Zeiner Band and Shakedown, original quirky jazz-type music with the sax 4tet plus bass and drums Dead Cat Bounce, and reggae and experimental dub music with various vocalists and his own group Buru Style. As a percussionist he’s been featured on several albums by ROIR recording artists 10 ft Ganja Plant, tracks by John Brown’s Body and has also recorded with the founding members of Jamaica’s legendary Soul Syndicate Band. Carbone is currently a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, where he also teaches drums and steel pan while pecking away at a dissertation about the Hammond Organ soul-jazz scene of the 1960s-70s. His writing has been featured in Wax Poetics, Modern Drummer, and in his bi-weekly New Haven Advocate column.
A former protégé of jazz saxophone legend Jackie McLean, DAVID DAVIS merges a uniquely round alto sound and a love of modern urban music with his mentor’s be-bop acumen. Armed also with an EWI and vocoder, Davis is the rare saxophonist whose melodic playing and ebullient personality enhance almost any style of music. Since graduating from the Hartt School of Music in 1996, Davis has performed with Mary J. Blige, Deborah Cox, LL Cool J, Brian McKnight, 10,000 Maniacs, Keith Washington, Sean Puffy Combs, Melvin Sparks, Kid Capri, Biz Markie, Karen Clarke, Marion Meadows, Roy Ayers, Donald Harrison, Dave Valentine and Gloria Lynn to name a few.
The youngest of seven children, Roxbury, Massachusetts native JAMEMURRELL STANLEY was a drummer before he could walk. After accompanying his siblings to West African drum and dance classes, Jamemurrell would lie on his back singing and mumbling the rhythms that he had heard. When he was 14, Jamemurrell traveled to Senegal, West Africa to expand his knowledge of African culture and music. Throughout his teens and early 20s Jamemurrell studied intensely with artists from Guinea, Senegal, and Mali such as Jah Amen, Leon Mobley and the legendary Babatunde Olatunji.
Jamemurrell is a percussionist writ large however, and he is equally as nasty with congas, bongos, tambourine, triangle and cowbell as he is with the djembe. Over the past decade he has provided both the rhythmic drive and seasoning spices for performances and recordings by Makengo of the Sierra Leone Refuge All Stars, Buru Style, Lamine Toure and Troupe Saloum, Leon Mobley and Da Lion, Art of Black Dance and Music, Samba Lolo, Rhythm Incorporated, Melvin Sparks, and his own Drummers of Peace and Equality.