The name is almost too cliché: Groove Session. “Oh sure; We better look out cause you guys are gonna lay down a wicked groove session.” We took it with a grain of salt and didn’t set the expectations high. No matter how many times we try, it’s really hard to get an idea of what a band truly sounds like before hearing them live. A few sample tracks don’t tell the story. And they can’t profess, “We sound a little like such and such, but we’re actually blazing through uncharted space and we’re going to blow your mind.” No, you just have to say that yourself after they go ahead and prove it firsthand.
It was a rainy Friday night in Nevada City. Not just rainy, but torrential. The first real storm in over a month. People were probably all too happy to come home from work, stoke the fireplace and settle in for the duration. A few of the best shows in Crazy Horse history have been sparsely attended. The thing they all have in common is that the bands still manage to have a blast because they love the vibe of the room and what it evokes in their playing. When Groove Session started off, you could practically hear crickets chirping, but that didn’t stop them from getting right down to business. Beginning to end, these guys held nothing back.
The realization occurred shortly in that this young group of guys from the Inland Empire city of Ontario, CA, represent a reinvigorated personification of the power trio paradigm. You know, that old model championed by The Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience and Rush. No comparison to those legends of course expect for the presence of guitar, bass and drums, synchronized in production of raw, orgasmic, aural nirvana. Just the fact that drummer, Manny Sanchez, is the lead singer sets these cats off on a promising foot. Suffice it to say, he’s one of the most natural singing drummers we’ve ever seen. Long hair, wild eyes and a burning hunger conjures the love child of Animal from the Muppets and Levon Helm. Like many of the best drummers, he plays with a tempered aggression – attacking the kit while maintaining just the right touch.
Surely it helps that the other member of the rhythm section is a Sanchez sibling, Ronnie. He has such a bad ass, jazz-funk bass style. The kind that sounds like he’s chasing something up a tree. That sort of upwards trajectory, with clean, resonant notes clustering forth like the bubbles of a submerged diver from way beneath the surface of the sea. In most any other band, guitarist Sarven Manguiat would be the center of attention and the first topic of any discussion. While certainly worthy, the fact that he’s not speaks volumes to Groove Session’s balance. But if you are a guitar freak, and we are, Manguiat gives us plenty to talk about around the water cooler. He’s a six-string ninja, slicing and dicing with precision both jagged and surgical. He doesn’t need to solo to create a sense of awe and wonder. Even the simplest nuances of any song are enough. But when he does assert himself, it’s something to behold.
Groove Session’s music could be loosely classified as “soul rock.” It was impressive how they filled two long sets almost exclusively with original compositions. These were no half-baked jamband attempts. These are legitimate works of a band which knows its strengths and has a lot to say. The couple of covers they did were absolutely dynamite. A lot of great bands have covered Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” but we’ve never heard any of them swallow it up and spit it out in such original fashion. Locked in at high velocity, they navigated it like Maverick behind the controls of an F-16. Still early in the show, they got some bodies out on the dancefloor with a righteous version of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” If you do it right, that is one song that will endear you to almost any audience.
Starting their second set after the stroke of midnight, the band was rewarded for its convictions as people began to gravitate towards the sound. Before long, there was about 50 people in the saloon, all probably wondering why they hadn’t been there sooner. When 1:30 rolled around, Sanchez the drummer announced that they were out of time as normally would be the case. Suddenly Ashley Q., bartender extraordinaire, appeared onstage to request (more like demand) an encore. When they finally left the stage, Sanchez was drenched in sweat with a maniacal grin on his face. It summed up the spirit of those of us fortunate to experience the Crazy Horse’s first official Groove Session.