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  • Jonathan Widran

THE GROOVE PROJECT: Volume 2: The Winds of Change

"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination." --- Jimmy Dean

At first blush, The Groove Project’s use of a quote from traditional country music icon and sausage maker Jimmy Dean to pinpoint the inspiration for the snappy, funked up sax and piano driven title track to Volume 2: The Winds of Change – the follow-up to the ensemble’s critically acclaimed, commercially successful and highly streamed and viewed Volume 1: Flights of Fantasy – may seem unusual.

Yet in the ever- adventurous creative imagination of the musical collective’s Grammy nominated founder, guitarist, composer and producer Arun Shenoy, there are never limits to ideas let alone genres, only wild amounts of melodic excitement, rhythmic energy/eclecticism and conceptual and visual magic (in artwork, packaging and videos) to better drive home his vision of creating something fresh and empowering in contemporary instrumental music.

In some ways, The Groove Project’s approach is ultra-retro, and in others, completely of the streaming era. That’s part of the coolness. As advertised and branded, their music is all about the infectious melodies and buoyant rhythms. Beyond that, they present epic works of endless elements and an overall sense of freewheeling fun.

Fans who have been vibing with The Groove Project since their exotic global fusion fired 2016 debut A Stagey Bank Affair know that the concept, accompanying narrative and thematic illustrations related to song titles are as much a part of the experience as the tunes and adventurous pop, R&B, funk and jazz playing. It’s an old school presentation reflective of the stunning LP art and packaging of the classic rock era – and Arun and company love riffing off imagery and quotes in creating their vibrant racks.

Perhaps against the grain of an industry where everything is consumed digitally with thumbnail cover images – and certainly unheard of in the urban jazz genre, where concept albums are rare, song titles don’t create a narrative thread and artwork may be colorful but stays fairly basic – Arun presents a cover featuring the images of an old sailing ship and compass on an ancient scroll. The enclosed booklet includes images connected to the 10 singles he released over the past four months leading up to the release of the full collection, and a quote from a famous person that’s tied to the inspiration of – and in some cases is the spark for – each song. It’s clearly the first contemporary instrumental album collectively influenced by the inspirational words of Christopher Columbus, Jacques Cousteau, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Dean and Webb Chiles (the first American sailor to round Cape Horn single handed) and others.

While the music is truly timeless – groove is groove and never goes out of style, after all - this is where Arun as project producer is completely in the 2020s, strategically dropping singles in order to submit each one for Spotify editorial playlist consideration. This was a great strategic move to help build anticipation for the full project. Nine of the ten singles were chosen for playlists, and the 11th track (released with the album) was picked up - for a total of 10 tracks on Spotify Official Playlists. The Groove Project has also created individual video clips for all 11 tracks.

None of the eye-popping art/packaging would matter without The Groove Project’s continuous ability to pop our ears and open our minds to the fresh possibilities of their chosen genre. The foundation is the Indian born, Singapore based Arun’s core ensemble of saxophonist Douglas Lira (a newcomer to the fold) and three mainstays from Volume 1: lead guitarist Samituru; bassist Hector Ruano; and drummer Glen Welman. The guest artists on Volume 2: Winds of Change are music legends that Arun considers an integral part of his musical education in his formative years.

Upon the departure of Lonnie Park, the keyboard slot was suddenly open – and instead of finding a new permanent member, Arun reached out to Jordan Rudess and Derek Sherinian of Dream Theatre, Adam Holzman (onetime keyboardist and musical director for Miles Davis), Fahir Atakoglu, and Ed Roth. Rudess appears on three tracks (“Into the Unknown,” “Spellbound by Two,” “Spellbound”) and the others on two each: Sherinian (“New Hope,” “Set Sail”), Holzman (“Ocean of Love,” “Eye of the Storm”), Atakoglu (“The Winds of Change,” “Soul Free”), Roth (“The Sailor,” “Islands in the Sea”).

“All the band members are credited collectively with songwriting and I play guitar along with Samaritu, along with the core band,” says Arun. “This was a strategic decision I took – to be able to take the music live on stage in the future. In the past, this was not possible given the scale of the music. So for this album, it was entirely designed around being performance ready.”

Inspired by man’s quest to chart the earth’s seven seas, the music on Volume 2: The Winds of Change is, according to Arun’s liner notes “a tribute to sailors and sea-farers through time, from Christopher Columbus who marked a period of European exploration that led to the development of the Western World as we know it, to James Cook who sailed thousands of miles around previously undiscovered parts of the globe as well as mapping out islands and coastlines in such detail that had never been done before.”

Another facet of this concept revolves around another of Arun’s random obsessions - starting off with the Golden Age of Piracy, the period between roughly 1680 and 1725 when pirates took over struggling British colony in the Bahamas, and turned it into a pirate republic, a base of operations from which they interrupted and plundered trade to major colonial outposts. This period has been extensively dramatized and romanticized. Tales of pirates and buccaneers, and the magic of classic novels like "Treasure Island" that unleashed our collective imagination. This ties in nicely to Arun’s longtime love of scuba diving. Having been fortunate to travel the world seeking adventure under the seas and also living right beside the waterfront for a very long time sparked the idea within him for this concept album.

Beyond all these grand conceptual ideas, at its core Volume 2: The Winds of Change is an emotional, powerfully rendered masterwork of contemporary jazz which can be appreciated solely as a spirit-filled listening experience as well. Fans of the band have certainly enjoyed the anticipation of each track and video since April 2021, starting with “Spellbound by Two,” the passionate and richly improvisational sax-piano duet by Lira and Rudess, and wrapping with the sensual, blues tined hipster funk exploration “Islands in the Sea” in late August.

The release of the album gives everyone a chance to take a step back and see/hear the big picture, from the soulful and soaring, top down drive time jam that opens the collection taking us “Into the Unknown” through the smooth and silky, then high octane punch of the closing track “Spellbound,” the set’s lone previously unreleased song.

Other essential musical manifestations of the multi-faceted journey are the soaring, explosive, piano pounding romp “The Winds of Change,” the sultry and breezy confidence and burst of excitement in finding “New Hope,” a thoughtful, laid back, guitar centered excursion on the “Ocean of Love,” a coolly strutting, pocket funk homage to “The Sailor,” a wildly exotic, blues-tinged and furious sax bursting slam into the “Eye of the Storm”; a frolicsome, tropical-tinged, guitar and piano conversation about the feeling of being “Soul Free”; and a jubilant, infectious expression of what it’s like to finally “Set Sail” featuring Derek Sherinian’s lively retro keyboards.

Speaking of his penchant for allowing grand concepts to fuel his passions to create deeply meaningful music, Arun says, “I understand that most people just listen to funky urban jazz to chill. But for me, the notion of concept albums is still alive and well. I believe that in today’s day and age, the wealth of information leads to poverty of attention. But that does not mean we stop trying. And I do hope that the select few who might stop to look beyond just the music will understand and appreciate the bigger picture of this project. To make it easier to digest, I have done my best to lay it out neatly on the band's official website.” (The Groove Project | Volume 2: The Winds of Change)

“Working with all of these music legends,” he adds, “was the most enjoyable part of creating these tracks and putting together the project. There was some initial hesitation because I could not predict how the writing and recording sessions would go, having never worked with them before, but it all worked out great. And now we have our third album as the outcome. It is a very proud moment for me.”

Listen to Volume 2: The Winds of Change here: Spotify – Volume 2: The Winds of Change

The Groove Project's YouTube page:


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