The Conglomerate’s First St. Petersburg Show Was Magnificent
The outstanding St. Petersburg Jazz Festival completed five amazing nights of music at The Palladium February 26 – March 1. Previously, we chronicled opening night with the fine Brazilian jazz band O Som Do Jazz. On Friday, there was amazing steel pans player Leon Foster Thomas, Saturday a big band extravaganza with vocalist Alexis Cole backed by the Helios Orchestra, and the final night was a wonderful tribute to Booker Little, the bebop player from the ’60s, presented by Jason Charos and his band. So there was a little of almost everything.
But what, you say, about Thursday? What color of jazz flowed through The Palladium on night two?
That would turn the discussion to The Conglomerate, a brilliant sextet (now a septet) from Orlando who play fusion jazz — and they play it really, really well. Their music covers the 50 years of the amalgam of jazz, rock, and electronic sounds, and it is truly electrifying. Their debut album Merger is now six months old, and it comes highly recommended. (Look for them on Facebook as TheCon PS.)
The show at The Palladium Side Door, the intimate venue, was pure magic. The band played two 50-minute sets, four songs each. This is an all-instrumental group with three (3) THREE keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and — the new addition — percussion. OK, that’s wrong; there are three keyboard players — but at least eight keyboards!
They opened with track one from Merger, “Prez Power,” which just leaps out at you. We had the opportunity to hear each musician stretch out a little, giving us a good idea what we should expect the remainder of the night, because these gentlemen were absolutely romping through the set, pure joy on their faces and on the faces of all in attendance.
Keith A. Phelps was front and center and acted as MC, telling us about the songs and introducing the band members, including new percussion player Steady Joseph. The only thing that surpassed Phelps’ playing on synthesizers and Moog was his honest and joyous smile. That’s the kind of night it was. Band leader Javen-Roy Llewellyn provided a bass intro to “Freehand” (track two from the album). During the song, Steady Joseph walked around the front of the audience with bongos, punctuating the beat and creating lots of excitement.
“Ushuaia” featured guitarist Daniel Kelley Howard, who had numerous great solos throughout the evening. KA Phelps opened “Joy” on synths, and we had also met Keith Phelps, his father, playing organ and electric piano. That in itself was a joyous discovery for us. Then Ed Anderson, who hails from St. Petersburg and plays Fender Rhodes electric piano and synthesizers, locked horns with whirlwind drummer James Adkins. Adkins is a sheer joy to hear AND watch!
There was a thought of mine that this electric fusion music might overpower the room and the crowd at The Side Door; engineer Byron Boyce, who works with the band, ensured that did not happen. The volume and balance were spot on all night. So far, we had heard three of the six songs from Merger and one other song. The second set would be similar, with two and two.
“Jimothy” (not on the album) began with Steady Joseph and Howard, and once again in my notes I had scribbled JOY. Llewellyn rightfully couldn’t hide that huge smile, and the bass pulse he provided all night was killer. Guitar and synths led into “Green Pastures,” a lovely ballad.
KA Phelps told us that the next song featuring Howard on guitar was “a real fan favorite.” We could see why, as Howard began “Miami Morning” as a ballad of sorts and had a fine solo as the song ramped up in tempo. And, somehow, we were all too quickly at the end of the show, as KA Phelps bid us goodnight before leading The Conglomerate through the final tune from Merger, “Head-On,” which is exactly how that song hit us.
The standing ovation as absolutely deserved.
[SET 1: Prez Power, Freehand, Ushuaia, Joy; SET 2: Jimothy, Ushuaia, Miami Morning, Head-On]
This is an amazing ensemble worthy of your attention. Their calendar includes a set at Dunedin Brewery Spring Beer Jam (March 28) and Orange Blossom Jamboree (May 15).
03/28 Dunedin Brewery Spring Beer Jam | Dunedin FL
05/15 Orange Blossom Jamboree | Brooksville FL
05/17 Lagniappe | Miami FL
06/09 Blue Bamboo | Winter Park FL
08/08 Blue Bamboo | Winter Park FL
10/10 Blue Bamboo | Winter Park FL
12/12 Blue Bamboo | Winter Park FL