• Jonathan Widran

DW3

Whether they’re whipping fans into a funk, soul and romance filled frenzy at their beloved home base of Spaghettini in Seal Beach, CA or bringing the old school heat to the revelers somewhere at sea on countless cruises since the mid-2000s, DW3 has long been contemporary urban jazz’s premiere party band.

Driven by a warm and mutually supportive family aesthetic, the core trio of brothers Eric and Billy Mondragon and family friend Damon Reel has brought its blend of sensuality and sizzle to some 250 annual shows via their compelling blend of R&B, old school funk, jazz and Latin fired energy. Their previous attempts to capture their untamable whirlwind of sounds with the help of producers Paul Brown and the late Ricky Lawson (DW3’s 2015 Woodward Avenue Records debut Vintage Truth) have resulted in four Billboard charting hits – including “I Got You” (featuring Gerald Albright), “Let the Music,” “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “California Dreamin’.”

The three chose to self-title their latest album to reflect the culmination of their steady and inspiring evolution from ultimate, first call party band to multi-faceted artists, songwriters and producers fulfilling their own singular musical vision. DW3 marks a major breakthrough as the first time Eric (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Billy (vocals, percussion) and Damon (vocals, editing, engineering) have helmed an entire project themselves. Throughout the 10 song, single interlude collection, they bring their enduring passion for the sounds of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s to the present moment while dipping into their equal love for lush, dreamy, vocal harmony filled ballads and buoyant, danceable jams.

To help them flesh out their vision, the trio ensembles with a batch of SoCal’s top studio guns and brings the heavy hitting saxophones of Boney James, Richard Elliot and Eric Darius to the mix. James caresses “Your Body” with his inimitable sexy cool, while Elliot helps get the album off to a slammin’ start, bringing his high-octane tenor fire (and some well-placed EWI generated vocals) to the loose, freewheeling funk opener whose title, “Let’s Have Fun Tonight,” sets the album’s overall intention.

Though DW3 rolls primarily as a showcase for the group’s original music, it includes two different twists on an irresistible re-imagining of the classic Con Funk Shun ballad “Straight from the Heart.” The second is a stripped down, practically a capella version spotlighting the trio’s impeccable harmonies intertwined with Darius’ sweet sax sensitivities. Other highlights include two versions of the thumping, dance floor ready ode to California “Cali Love” (the second featuring a tasty rap by Jay2Six); two super-sexy songs featuring breakout R&B vocalist Rebecca Jade (“Like There’s No Tomorrow,” “Groove You”) and “Never Gonna Stop,” which Damon Reel calls the band’s “El DeBarge meets Michael Jackson with a new hip, fun flavor to it.”

While DW3 will surely always be playing the arrangements of crowd-pleasing pop and soul classics which made them a sensation among urban jazz fans, their new album lays a foundation for a band creatively transcending their past and embracing a future with no musical limits. Its inspiring to hear them integrate their classic vibe with fresh new sounds, contemporary melodies and songs that draw from all of their influences yet have their own distinctive flow.

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