What separates Lin “The Soul Trumpeter” Rountree from other smooth jazz hornblowers is that his entire mission in the studio is to achieve the intensity and freedom of a live performance. Many detractors of the genre (including most of my friends—and admittedly myself until recently) wouldn’t dream of actually paying to see a live concert if it just meant more of what we’ve heard (in passing) on the radio.
Three years after going to my first jazz concert, all I have to say is: their loss. Compared to the aural edifices that a group of talented musicians can construct when flying by the speed of their wit, most recorded smooth jazz feels as orthodox and Puritanical as a condom made of an oven mitt. “Why the hell can’t they sound like that on the fucking record?” I wondered aloud, in the company of others.
Rountree’s ten-year mission towards making a radio album capable of busting out of that mold, has resulted in what may be his most spirited effort yet, his fifth studio album Soulfunky, released in 2015. Here is an excerpt from a chat on the making of Soulfunky:
MW: What were your artistic goals with that album?
LR: Smooth Jazz is sometimes kind of homogenized, and in order to get on the radio, you need to fit into a certain mold. (I’m not saying it’s cookie-cutter, but there’s a criteria you have to follow.)
On my first CD, I didn’t know what the criteria was; I didn’t have a mold, I just wrote songs. My second and third CD explored soul jazz. The fourth one, which was the first album I did with Trippin-N-Rhythm Records after I got signed, was a record that kind of fit that mold—there was a couple of songs that went on the fringe, but for the most part it was right down the middle.
But with Soulfunky, I wanted to get back to a more organic sound, when I didn’t know anything about the mold, didn’t know anything about smooth jazz radio, and something that embodies organic development. I wanted to capture the sound we get onstage—because when we perform live, there’s a lot of fire, a lot of great things happening between me and my bandmembers, and can never bottle that.
And I would be thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could capture some of this magic on record. We gotta record this!” Especially in soundcheck, when you just come up with a funky groove. And those are the times when you say, “Hey man, I wish we could’ve recorded that.” And you always forget it after the show.
So we went in with that approach. We were at soundcheck, my bass player, Kenny “Mac” Martin and I got together and I said, “Just kick a groove, man. Kick a groove, something funky.” And we built most of the songs around that particular concept. Let’s start with a base, start with a groove, start with a beat. Put something organic together that develops instead of fitting into some sort of mold, and then we’ll see what we have. And that’s what we did. That’s the sound I’m gravitating towards, and that’s where I’m going to push forward.
Lin’s summer schedule is packed, with local Detroit shows at the COBO on June 17 and 18, the Cruise With The Ques on the Detroit Princess Riverboat on the 25th, the Canton Color Tour Jazz Series on July 22 in Canton, MI, The Spectacles on July 26, and the River Raisin Jazz Festival Kick Off in Monroe, MI, on August 11. Mr. Rountree will be playing at the 9th Annual Nile Gold Jazz & Soul Safari in Kampala, Uganda on October 7th. More information can be found at http://www.linrountreemusic.com.