Born out of weekly sessions at New York’s influential floating acid-jazz club Giant Step, Groove Collective is a ten-member combo that successfully bridges the oft-explored gap between hip-hop and bebop. Whereas most fusions of the disparate forms feebly hew closer to one side or another with only empty stylistic nods justifying the blend, the Groove Collective’s debut (produced by Steely Dan knob-twirler Gary Katz) masterfully tackles the middle ground. Over heavy funk and hip-hop rhythms (both looped and live, along with turntables and a bed of sumptuous percussion) first-rate jazzers like trombonist Josh Roseman, trumpeter Fabio Morgera, vibist Bill Ware and saxophonist Jay Rodriguez deliver concise but meaty solos, smartly accenting the beats whether live and flexible or sampled and rigid. Dollops of post-bop, ’70s soul jazz and Afro-Caribbean styles intermingle with modern street beats; the combinations never sound forced. Percussionist Gordon “Nappy G” Clay and members of the hip-hop group the Aliens rap on a few tracks, but Groove Collective is, for the most part, instrumental.
Much of the Groove Collective’s extensive rhythm section — Clay, bassist Jonathan Maron and drummer Genji Siraisi — join guitarist Andy Faranda and conga player Daniel Wyatt to back soul diva Nicole Willis in Repercussions. Although a different horn section appears on several cuts, by and large Earth and Heaven lacks the muscle, grit and energy of the Groove Collective album; it’s not much more than an ordinary retro-’70s soul record.