Soule Monde Charms Crowd at 51 Main

By Devin McGrath-Conwell

Music has long been a source of community. Concerts have a way of bringing a cross-section of people together to appreciate the art unfolding before them. Middlebury is no exception to this tendency. With a population made up of those associated with the College and those who have never been involved with its programs, it is sometimes difficult to bridge the gap that exists between the two worlds. Music provides this bridge. Middlebury is home to many gifted musicians, many of whom have played with world-renowned bands and performers. This is the case of Soule Monde, a locally based funk duo that will have played two shows at 51 Main by the end of the academic year.

51 Main is a restaurant and social space created by a group of students who wanted an off-campus setting to enjoy good food, art  and conversation. Since its opening, its musical programming has grown alongside its business.

“The music scene … kind of started by accident,” manager Karen Laflamme said. “There was just an opportunity to have music a couple times and then it seemed like there was a good response from the community.”

In particular, the community has shown an overwhelmingly positive response to Soule Monde’s shows.

Consisting of drummer Russ Lawton and organist Ray Paczkowski, the duo perform a distinct repertoire of original funk tunes. Both men live locally, but have played with musicians known the world over. The two met while playing in the Trey Anastasio band, founded by the guitarist of Phish.

From there, the two began playing gigs under the title Ray & Russ until settling on the name Soule Monde, which comes from a combination of Lawton’s middle name, Soule and Ray-mond.
The blending of their musical influences results in a distinguished sound. A pianist first, Paczkowski cites Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk as musical inspirations.

“I don’t claim to have [Monk’s] melodic or harmonic concepts at all, but his feeling of rhythm, and the bands that he worked with I always loved,” Paczkowski said.

The jazz influence is apparent in his playing, and complemented nicely by Lawton’s drumming. Lawton cites Santana, who the duo had an opportunity to play with in  2003, as a major influence.

“That definitely got my style a lot; it was kind of Latin rock. It just had some swing to it,” Lawton said.

Writing songs for the nontraditional pairing of organ and drums as sole members of an instrumental group presents the opportunity for remarkable experimentation. These two men were the perfect match to take it on.

“When we started the [band], Ray had some songs he’d written, and I had a bunch of beats, and then maybe a little bit of melody,” Lawton said. “So what I do now is cool for me as the drummer … I have a nice microphone that plugs right in [to a phone]. Then I just send it to him.”

The result is a richly original collection of compositions that show off the individual instruments just as well as they prove that drums and organs were meant to be performed together. The band fully commits to delivering the most memorable show possible every time they take the stage.

On Jan. 16, the duo put their talents on full display at 51 Main, where it was clear that they have earned the heartfelt respect of the community.

“You know, they stop at 11:00, and people are just begging for more still, and they just find it in them, they just keep going,” Laflamme said. “They don’t even think about the fact that they’ve been playing two hours straight, they haven’t had anything to drink, they’re probably delirious from hunger, but they just keep going.”

This mutual respect between the duo and their fans is amplified by their involvement as members of the greater Middlebury community. Lawton gives drum lessons to both residents of the town and Middlebury students, and Paczkowski has long-standing relationships with many local residents.

Showing up at 7 p.m., Russ and Ray spent an hour bringing in their instruments and setting up. In the midst of assembling a drum-set and a Hammond Organization, the two men stopped to hug and talk to everyone they knew. Half an hour before the show, every table in the restaurant was occupied, and fans without a seat assembled around the equally crowded bar. No one seemed annoyed. No one seemed angry that they could not sit. They were here to see their friends play, and socialize with the students who had ventured out to hear the impressive band playing just downtown. By 8 p.m., the scheduled start time of the show, there was not a patch of unclaimed floor, and every audience member was careful to hold on to their sacred ground until the final number at 11:15 p.m.

Soule Monde is scheduled to play at 51 Main once again on Apr. 9 from 8 to 11 p.m.