As of late, soul and funk are finding a new vitality in music's fickle marketplace. Hugo, frontman for new-kids-on-the-local funk-block Squeezable Hugo, has put together a soulful package that is right in line with the rock/R&B amalgam currently fueling the national careers of Macy Gray, Angie Stone and D'Angelo. Hugo is bridging the two worlds of performance and pop, and making the wildly improvisational world of funk palatable for the general audience.
"I love where it's going," Hugo says of the current soul scene. "I think it opens up the door for me, all these artists using real instruments. I'm big into arrangements."
Hugo, who goes simply by his first name, has spent the majority of his career associated with the growing local pop phenomena-machine, both as a writer and as a performer. He started out playing with top-40 bands like the Bone Tones, rubbing the odd pop shoulder in the process (Wilson Phillips, Salt ' Pepa, Marshall Tucker, George Clinton). It's a path that's produced a certain world-weary confidence in Hugo, 30, who has been playing professionally since the age of 18.
And it has paid off: For a relatively new band, Squeezable Hugo has seen a quick ascension through the local ranks. That's because live, Hugo ably leads his well-oiled party machine, all the while captivating the audience with his charisma. The talented bunch is made up of Pete Orenstein on keyboards, Mike Walker on guitar, Tony Aleguas on drums, Dan Goore on bass, Kenny Cohen on saxophone, Jason Harold on bongos and Fran on backup vocals. The group comprises Berklee grads, former members of UmÃ¶öja and World Wide Tribe, and professional musicians from the attractions grind. They carry a fairly hefty word-of-mouth buzz around town for having coalesced only in six months. The road-tested troupe seems well-suited to leader Hugo's manicured indulgences.
"In the traditional sense of funk, you play around each other, playing every note you can. It's a mess. I'm about smart players, tasteful players," explains Hugo, confidently. "There are no funk bands that have songs."
Songs, it turns out, are just what Hugo has to offer. In addition to his current crop with Squeezable Hugo, who are near completion of their debut full-length, cheekily titled "A Long Tale About a Little Funk," Hugo recently inked a publishing deal with teen-pop producer Tony Battaglia ('N Sync, Mandy Moore), and even co-wrote a song, "Sweet Kisses," for Epic recording artists P.Y.T., which has been slated for single release. This naturally follows his earlier plastic-pop endeavor as music director for the Bananarama-esque band Boy Krazy that achieved mild early-'90s success with the bouncy "That's What Love Can Do."
It's a hard balance: funk tradition and the disposable fancy of the teen-age wasteland. Not surprisingly, though, in Hugo's hands, the give and take sounds surprisingly strong. A four-track demo, including the band's signature song, "Butterfly Wings," brims with promise. Hugo knows what he's doing, and with his smooth voice of unmistakable breadth, it's hard not to like it.
But even with Hugo's painful attention to detail, it may be tough for some to fall prey. That's because it's all very Orlando -- that sense of colossal presentation and invisible-strings marketing is a large part of what makes Hugo tick. But, hey, folks are talking, people love him.