Swatkins & The Positive Agenda & Jarrod Lawson 5.25.19

Mississippi Studios
Portland, OR

Words & photos by James Sissler

Swatkins & The Positive Agenda celebrated the release of their debut album at Portland’s Mississippi Studios Saturday with support from fellow hometown heavyweight Jarrod Lawson and Amenta Abioto. Comprised of some of the top voices from Portland’s neo-soul scene, The Positive Agenda embodies the vision of its charismatic leader, keyboardist and talkbox virtuoso Steveland Swatkins, who also plays keys with Allen Stone. The group has performed their joyous brand of soulful funk sporadically over the past few years, building anticipation for their first release, simply entitled The Positive Agenda EP.

The night began with a solo set by multi-instrumentalist and looping artist Amenta Abioto, whose music features conscious lyrics over hypnotic African and hip hop-inspired rhythms. Using a mix of live instruments, vocals, and pre-recorded loops, she played a short set of original songs culminating in a theatrical dance break that helped get the audience moving.

Soul singer/songwriter Jarrod Lawson then took the stage with his band and kicked things up a notch. The added richness of the full band stood out as they launched into a set of their sweet and funky soul tunes. The group’s dynamic, groovy playing filled the space nicely, complimented by the venue’s noticeably good sound. Christopher Friesen’s bass and the percussive textures of drummer Cory Limuaco were especially present. The two were locked into a deep pocket that had the crowd dancing. Along with guitarist Andriano Donnaloia, they did a great job supporting the smooth and jazzy singing and playing of bandleader Jarrod Lawson.

The celebration really started once Swatkins & The Positive Agenda finally stepped onstage, opening with a couple of songs sung by Moorea Masa. Apparently wanting to take the party to the next level, Swatkins then called a tune from Excellent Gentleman—another Portland funk project with some of the same members. The driving four-on-the-floor beat of drummer Tyrone Hendrix pumped up the crowd, along with a blistering synth solo from Michael Elson. Jarrod Lawson then returned to the stage to sing “Theme from The Positive Agenda,” the single from the new album. After a guitar solo from Peter Knudsen, Swatkins left the stage for a moment as he passed it to percussionist Jans Ingber and Tyrone Hendrix for a short drum jam. Ingber then sang a funky one, with Swatkins back at his keyboard, smiling and swaying like a young Stevie Wonder, but with the voice of a funky robot.

Before releasing the microphone, Jans took a second to congratulate and appreciate Swatkins and all the good work he does for the Portland music community, comparing him to the sun in how he gives life and strength to others. This was echoed by vocalist Arrietta Ward, who sang a couple of songs after emotionally reminiscing about the formation of the project and how “Swatty spoke it all into existence” years ago. The set ended on a high note, with Swatkins yelling for the audience to “shake it” in his funky robo-voice, after which they demanded an encore.

The Positive Agenda EP is now available on iTunes, Bandcamp, and Spotify.





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