It's a cold, rainy January afternoon in New York. In a recording studio on West 27th Street, people are gathering, greeting each other with soulful hugs and high-fives. They're not really sure what they have been invited to check out, but it's clear Marlon Saunders is 'bout to do somethin.' Marlon senses the groove will be just right. "This is the perfect backdrop," Marlon says, sipping his ginger tea, "-beautiful people having a good time while me and my band get ready to do our thing." The new project, A Groove So Deep: The Live Sessions is about to jump off.
Unlike most live albums, A Groove So Deep is not a recording of a performance before a screaming audience. For this project, Marlon decided to bring his band, Mood Control, together for a series of sessions in which the musicians experimented with different approaches to favorites from his critically-acclaimed debut release, Enter My Mind, and songs written especially for the new project. From over 14 hours of recorded material, Marlon selected just over 70 minutes to become A Groove So Deep: The Live Sessions. Marlon explains, "I wanted to capture some of the special moments that happen in our rehearsals...when it's just us and the music. We get to stretch out a bit; the music can be improvisational, free, jazzy, funky-whatever we're feelin.'" And Mood Control was definitely feelin' it! Afro Blue My Mind and Keep Doin' What Ya Do showcase the band's ability to this music to another level. And then there's the infectious title track, A Groove So Deep, the sexy poetic flow of Declaring Love, and Pay It to the People, a funky cut that features the amazing talent of bass man, band director and producer Carl Carter. Marlon also delivers a smooth, soulful rendition of Rose Royce's classic, I Wanna Get Next to You.
For Marlon, it is important to make music that is vulnerable and honest. "We can fix, change and alter just about anything these days," he points out. "Much of the time, the human element is sacrificed. That raw quality isn't there. When it is live you are living in the moment-you accept the fact that there will be spontaneity, the pulse may move, the singer may take a breath that changes the way the entire band hears the phrase. The sense of improvisation becomes a part of the recording."
Marlon has been creating music ever since he started singing and playing piano in church at the age of five. After graduating from Boston's Berklee College of Music, the Maryland native moved to New York to follow his dream of becoming a session singer. "As a kid I always loved looking at the recording credits," Marlon recalls. "Names like Fonzi Thornton, Tawatha Agee, Luther Vandross, Lani Groves, Hamish Stuart, and Patti Austin were always showing up. I loved the sounds these singers created. I knew I wanted to do that!" And so he did. Over the years, he has worked with a wide range of artists, including Sting, Martha Wash, Nine Inch Nails, Donald Brown, Lauryn Hill, Shania Twain, and Bobby McFerrin.
Marlon continues to write, sing and produce with the acclaimed acid-jazz band, Jazzhole, while also serving as a professor at his alma mater, Berklee. "My dream is to be an artist who makes great music. If I am true to this all gifts will abundantly follow. I am an artist who takes his craft seriously...that is who I am and that's what I do."
On A Groove So Deep, all the musicians bring this same love and dedication of live music. Masters of their instruments, members of Mood Control have performed with artists ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to Me'Shell NdegeOcello to Brian McKnight. "I am so lucky to have these amazing folk in my band who are willing to give unselfishly and to create so honestly in the moment," Marlon says, almost in amazement. "Quincy Jones once told me that when this happens, God enters the room."
Maybe that's why they call it soul music. In an industry where so much depends on style, looks, and the need to label everything, Marlon keeps his eyes on the prize. "I am very comfortable with being known as a soul artist because soul music has blues, jazz, gospel, and funk...all Black music can be found in soul music. It's all created by my people," he explains, "and y'all know we had to improvise just in order to survive." On A Groove So Deep: The Live Sessions, Marlon Saunders and Mood Control create music in the moment, rhythm and word tellin' us what the soul knows about love, life and liberation.
Marlon Saunders, lead vocals
Carl Carter, bass, musical director
Joe Scott, keys
Adrian Harpham, drums
Daniel Sadownick, percussion
Mark Gross, saxophone, flute
Arif St. Michael, vocals
Biti Strauchn, vocals
Tricia Angus, vocals
Special guests on A Groove So Deep:
Khaleel Carter, vocals