For an eight-piece ensemble with a big band horn section, a hell-raising blues guitarist, several strong vocalists and keyboardist Jimmy Voegeli of the Grammy-nominated Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band, it's hardly surprising that the Jimmys' first live record would be 10 pounds of sound in a one-pound bag. HaDaYa Do That Thing LIVE, the group's recently released album, captures the essence of their impressive live presence, showing off each individual's funk and jazz prowess without losing the spirit of playful improv that makes their music as fascinating as it is danceable.
With a fresh slew of 2013 Madison Area Music Awards to their name, including artist of the year, blues performer of the year and three instrumentalist awards, the timing was just right to release the new album, which contains live recordings from winter 2012 through spring 2013. The band unveiled it on July 6, during a celebration at the Majestic Theatre.
"It's funny; I looked out there at all of us onstage, and I thought, this is something we all did together," says Voegeli, the group's frontman. "I had a vision of this band and what I wanted it to be, and I'd recruit these players and have an idea of how I want the show to be done. Everyone respected that and understood it and went along with what I was trying to do. It just started coming together, and our fans followed. It is pretty amazing to be up there with them; each one of these guys can lead."
Voegeli's bandmates have the impressive resumes to prove it. Perry Weber, who supplies lead guitar and vocals, fronts Milwaukee blues band Perry Weber & the Devilles; saxophonist Pete Ross has toured and recorded with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. You'd think such talented guys would bump elbows and egos occasionally, but the effect is more like a party in the streets than a traffic jam. Darren Sterud, who supplies wild trombone stylings and the occasional soulful vocal, is the highlight of a killer horn section; Ross and Bryan Husk contribute alto and tenor sax and Chad Whittinghill brings a mean, heartbreaking trumpet. All of these brass players show off their jazz chops with tremendous deftness while effectively supporting Voegeli and Weber's leads.
Where Voegeli's voice is more emotive and soul-driven, Weber's is bluesy and gruff; the versatility suits the ever-changing mood of the band's live presence, which moves seamlessly from funk to big band jazz to R&B to blues and rock. It's all held together by drummer Mauro Magellan and bassist Johnny Wartenweiler, providing just the right funk heartbeat and blending in so well that you may overlook how skilled they are unless you're really paying attention.
Having such a polished crew can be a bit intimidating for a bandleader. But Voegeli has what it takes to keep them motivated.
"There are such spectacular players that I worry about keeping them busy and challenged and interested. But that's a good thing," he remarks.
The fact that they all appear to be having a blast certainly can't hurt.
"I think what we are trying to achieve is just following what is in our hearts," Voegeli says. "This is part of my overall vision: real music that gets people dancing. We offer that authenticity that comes with writing our own tunes, writing what is relevant to us."
And when you're doing something you love, your effort has a way of appearing effortless. A cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" during the album-release show demonstrated the Jimmys' flair for improv as it slipped into Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" with ease.
"There are certain songs that are arranged, and we tend to stay in that form. There are tunes where we can start exploring and discovering," Voegeli says.
Voegeli says that jazz training has equipped the band with powerful improv skills.
"I refer to jazz because it's such a difficult art form, but these guys know it inside out. We try to add little horn lines or vocal lines to rob them from other tunes, to twist people's ears and keep them on their toes."