Soul Café – Step Aside

Step-AsideLed by guitarist/composer Ed “Mr. Ed” Starrett, the vibrant fusion ensemble known as Soul Café has been thrilling audiences in the St. Louis area for more than 20 years with their blend of complex jazz and funk, Latin accents and driving grooves. Now, with their new album Step Aside, the soulful six-piece band urges listeners to clear a path for their exhilarating, infectious sound.

Due out October 15, 2021 via Autumn Hill Records, Step Aside also serves as both reintroduction and rebirth for Starrett and Soul Café. It’s the band’s first album wholly composed of original material since their 2003 debut, Unspoken Request; the first studio session for the band’s stellar current line-up, which has honed its sound over a dozen years together; and the first outing for the band following Starrett’s nearly decade-long battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

The title Step Aside has a couple of meanings for me,” Starrett explains. “We as a band are stepping aside from what we’ve done in the past a way and bringing our own identity to the forefront. On a more personal level, I was able to walk through a very dark, challenging and difficult time while keeping this band together and moving forward. So for me, Step Aside means that I can finally put that chapter behind me.”

Starrett founded Soul Café in 1998, upon settling in St. Louis. He’d attended school in the area and moved back to his native Chicago, but personal and professional opportunities mixed with the desire for a less hectic home base led him back to the Gateway City. The band’s sound reflects the influences of such fusion greats as Yellowjackets, John Patitucci, Lee Ritenour and Chuck Loeb, as well as St. Louis’ own (and Autumn Hill labelmate) Dave Weckl.

A primary model for the band, though, was the eclectic funk-fusion band Koinonia, co-founded by the prolific bassist Abraham Laboriel. Starrett repaid the debt on Soul Café’s 2003 debut with the tribute tune “Trujillo,” named for the region of Laboriel’s Honduran roots.

“I always gravitated towards driving instrumental jazz music,” Starrett says. “I’m into very syncopated, very progressive, unpredictable music where the writing is a little bit more complex. If you put that together with percussion and a horn section, like Santana meets Tower of Power, then I start doing backflips.”

Given the deft and diverse skills of Soul Café’s current line-up, Starrett may soon be an Olympic-level gymnast. The majority of the band has maintained a consistent line-up for the last twelve years: keyboardist Jerry Scruggs, drummer Tim Quarells, bassist Charles “Bud” Quarells, and percussionist Donald Williams.

The one exception is saxophonist Jason Swagler, who joined just four years ago but has long been in the band’s orbit; he is Associate Professor and Director of Jazz Studies at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville and was part of the horn section that guested on Unspoken Request. He’s quickly become an integral member of the band, serving as producer on the new album as well as assembling and arranging for the horn section of SIU colleagues Garrett Schmidt (trumpet) and Cody Henry (trombone).

It took five years for Soul Café to release its first album, though it was immediately embraced by the thriving local jazz scene. The band was voted Best New Artist by St. Louis Jazz Radio in 2003, and it has since headlined the Wine, Dine and Jazz Festival three times and has been featured at the Chesterfield Jazz Festival, the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival and the St. Louis Art Fair, among other events.

Get their new album at the band’s website.

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