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Marvelous Mack’s Sunday Night Soul Food Jam Sessions @ Gene’s Supper Club

Nov. 4, 2012

Nov. 5, 2012
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My food arrived just in time. The evening's proceedings were advertised as a Soul Food Jam Session, after all.

So, it was fitting that local singer Marvelous Mack would start in with his flexibly funky band just as my plate of fried pork chops, greens, yams, mac and cheese and cornbread was ready from the kitchen at Gene's Supper Club. The venue on North 60th St., a couple blocks off Fond du Lac Ave., may appear to be one of those bars some bluesmen would qualify as a "hole in the wall," but once Mack and his accomplices get their groove going every Sunday night, the imbued the slightly cramped environs with warmth, nostalgia and an openness to collaborating with them that made for a familial feeling of chummy unity. Mack and his fellow jammers' mission at Gene's seems to make comfort music to complement comfort food.

Mack made mention of his sprained hand early on after making it to Gene's makeshift stage, so he was a versatile trouper last Sunday; he not only lent his solidly soulful baritone to the electric bass, keyboard and drum kit backing him, but took turns on the latter two instruments as well. He only groused a bit as to how difficult drumming can be after his brief stint on percussion as he anchored a loose interpretation of Slave's "Slide."

"Loose" was a byword for Mack and his sidemen, especially as they opened with a couple extended outings that gave every player a workout. Especially energized was the drummer, named Marcus, whose steady beats and ornate fills were busy and virtuosic enough to be in service to a jazz group. Save for the brief times he was afforded a solo, his skillful display didn't hog attention from the others around him. The looseness over which Mack presided also extended into vocals, too. Perhaps nonsensically, though sounding naturally as can be, Mack's bassist (one of at least three in the house at the time of my departure) broke into the first couple of stanza's of The Sugarhill Gang's "Rappers Delight" during the bridge of what was otherwise a forceful take on The Commodores' "Brick House." Seemingly less extemporized but at least as moving was Mack's addressing of Sam Cooke's civil rights anthem, "A Change is Gonna Come." 

Musicianship took a turn for the tighter when Mack's female counterpart, announced as Beautiful Becky, took the mic. Though she might not possess the exotic, ethereal tone of Sade, whose "Paradise" she commandeered, her earthier rendition fit just as well with the acid jazz-cum-neo soul sweetness going on behind her. She likewise poured gutsy feeling into Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Love Overboard" and Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good." The night's surfeit of bassists notwithstanding, the latter tune was one of the few where an audience member came to the platform to join the group in what's advertised as an open jam. That attendee, a lady named Marion, not only abetted Becky with a performance that beamed with the joy of recollecting a favorite oldie, after she had suing her piece, she encouraged the throng to keep on supporting live music in light of the electronic mucking about done to people's studio vocals.

Gene's kept up a steady pace of take-out orders through the newly darkened early evening hours, and deservedly so if everything on the menu's tasty as my order. Perhaps they were crunched for time, but the customers getting their grub on the go were depriving themselves of a fine time unique to the city's live music scene. May Marvelous Mack and Beautiful Becky keep it going for some time to come.


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