If you’re into the jazz, blues and rock scenes in Roanoke, you’ve probably come across Brian Mesko by now. Mesko, who teaches at the Music Lab at Jefferson Center, plays for the Root Downs, The Nicholson Brothers, Melissa & the Growlers (featuring his wife, singer Melissa Mesko) and his own Brian Mesko Trio and/or Quartet.
The quartet played some killer sets at Henry’s Public House on Friday night, and I shot some video that I will post later this week. One of the songs, a Mesko original called “Funk Tune,” was on the set list, and with sax man Willis Greenstreet and bassist Dane Alderson turning in some hot solos, Mesko showed that he is as good at choosing sidemen as he is at playing guitar (or bass, or drums — we’re jealous of him over here).
Mesko has already recorded “Funk Tune” with this same quartet, including drummer Forrest Young (also a very talented cat), at Summit Sound, in Eagle Rock. Jake Dempsey was at the board.
A big thanks to Tad Dickens for our first official review:
For those who love funky soul-jazz music, the field of players is not deep.
Dr. Lonnie Smith continues to wow audiences, including a Jefferson Center crowd in 2011. Soulive has backed away from full-time touring, though its drummer, Alan Evans, is leading his own strong trio these days. Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood only occasionally record and perform together. Nor is James Carter Organ Trio, which played Jefferson Center earlier this year, a full-time project.
But Virginia is lucky to have a strong act that advances the vibe of Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Jack McDuff — legends of the Hammond B3-driven subgenre. The Rootdowns, a quartet with members in Richmond and Lynchburg, take their name from a classic Smith number. The band claims Smith, Soulive and the aforementioned John Scofield as influences.
And they show it on the band’s debut CD, “Songs With Friends.”
The Rootdowns have appeared multiple times at Blue 5 Restaurant over the past couple of years, but mostly as a trio — Brian Mahne on organ, Dusty Ray Simmons on drums and Brian Mesko on guitar. Before finishing “Songs With Friends,” the act added a fourth, Marcus Tenney on tenor saxophone and trumpet. That was a good addition to an already strong live lineup, and Tenney works out well on the new disc.
Disc opener “Boogie In My Room,” which mines the MSMW vibe, and the more Smith-type number “Handle With Care” show the band paying respect to those influences. Try to stay still while listening to “Porter Jr.” named for the iconic New Orleans bassist George Porter Jr.
Simmons and Mahne (on bass keys) lay down unstoppable grooves to support hip melodies and elevating solos, including plenty from Mesko, who has a deep vocabulary and great tone.
And on the record’s key instrument, the organ, Mahne is all taste, funk and swing, except when it’s time to get nasty. His mastery is most evident on “Family,” which combined with Mesko’s octave double-stops summons the vibe of Smith and George Benson’s association.
Even if The Rootdowns don’t quite transcend their influences, they are making music worth buying and worth hearing live.
— Tad Dickens, The Roanoke Times