Friends with Benefits
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Friends with Benefits


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"New Beat still movin' 'em"

Funk, soul, jazz, beer, and food - what more could a jazz enthusiast or a plain old Iowa City entertainment connoisseur ask for with $5?

The basement of 13 S. Linn St. will be filled with dancing revelers on Saturday, thanks to a certain local band that goes by the name of the New Beat Society.

The building's imposing red brick and white pillars will be the entrance to a four-band show, including jam bands Caveman Spaceship and Hunab. Performers Max Eubank and Joe Losh will also take to the stage with acoustic music.

The headlining New Beat Society has performed at least eight times at the Yacht Club in the past year, with more show dates there in future. Lead singer Kathy Ruestow lovingly referred to venue, which turns 4 this weekend, as "home."

The band, which performs invariably in swanky formal attire, mixes jazz, funk and soul. Saxophonist Chris LoRang and trumpeter Brett Messenger form a tight duo, while guitarist Nick Gruber, drummer Justin LeDuc, and bassist Ben Soltau round out the group. Ranging in age from 18 to 25, the young musicians transmit in performance above all a sense of excitement about the possibilities of their genre-blending efforts.

Completing the sound is Ruestow's voice, as ethereal as it is powerful: whether she's belting out the big notes or whispering into the mike like a sultry friend, her smoothness never fully hides her instrument's edge.

Right now, the band's groove is contemporary R&B. "It's something we're all sort of exploring," Ruestow said enthusiastically. "It leaves us a lot of freedom - it's a huge genre."

But above all, the New Beat Society is a dance act - that rare band you just can't help but move to. An audience twisting to the rhythm is one of the members' main goals at each outing. The group improvises at every show, evidence both of the members' musical chops and sense of audience rapport.

The band, which formed in 2005, comprises people who attended either the UI School of Music or studied classical music or jazz at Kirkwood. The New Beat Society is also one of 10 bands featured on the Yacht Club's new compilation CD, Iowa City Yacht Club: Picks 2006, which will debut during the festivities this weekend. The album distills a year's worth of performances into 10 tracks and includes offerings from such Yacht Club regulars as Euforquestra and Public Property.

The New Beat Society hopes to release its own CD next month, possibly in time for a Feb. 9 show with Iowa City's soul mainstays The Diplomats of Solid Sound - now featuring the all-female vocalists the Diplomettes - which will also take place at the Yacht Club.

"[The CD will] be an example of what we have," Ruestow said. "And what's going to be coming in the future." - Brianna Runyan - The Daily Iowan 1.18.07

"New Beat Generation"

The Toyota/Scion Iowa City Jazz Festival will kick off today at 6:30 p.m., giving many local performers a big stage - and some well-deserved exposure.

One such group, New Beat Society, will bring listeners "a blend of what people perceive as jazz and music you can shake your butt to," said Chris LoRang, the band's saxophonist.

New Beat Society's syncopated sonorities often seem more like the grooves of James Brown and Ray Charles than the cognitive, atonal melodies of Ornette Coleman or the Modern Jazz Quartet.

LoRang said New Beat Society wants to appeal to everyone, not just those versed in the intricacies and history of jazz.

"In a jazz show, there are very educated audience members who know what they're hearing," he said. "But a general audience can participate and be entertained by what we do and have a great amount of fun."

New Beat Society started in August 2005 as a three-piece instrumental group consisting of LoRang on sax, Justin LeDuc on drums, and Ben Soltau on bass. In November, the group recruited Kathy Ruestow on vocals and Brett Messenger on trumpet. Just last month, the group expanded yet again, adding guitarist Nick Gruber.

Every member of the ensemble has studied at the UI School of Music or Kirkwood's music department, with Gruber just having graduated with a master's in jazz studies from the UI. With all this rearing in jazz, the band's sound was a no-brainer.

"It just fits well with everyone in the group to play that style," LoRang said. "It's everybody's main style at the moment."

And the improvisatory genre has treated the group well. LoRang said everyone in the band has a real feeling of accomplishment after the shows, because jazz is a very challenging art form to master.

"It's always a constant battle to understand and know more," LoRang said. "With every show, our feedback is more and more positive, because the audience members are really getting into it and enjoying themselves."

The group's sound could be compared with another local band, Euforquestra, which will also perform at this weekend's festival. The two ensembles play together on a regular basis, and Euforquestra even helped out its new counterpart by producing New Beat Society's website, … something the New Beat members definitely appreciated.

"Sometimes, in music, you happen upon some of the nicest and [most] benevolent people, like these guys, who are trying to promote the best musical community," LoRang said.
- Zach Spittler - The Daily Iowan 6.30.06

"New Beat's New Album"

***1/2 out of *****

It's the first go at a full-length for Iowa City musicians the New Beat Society. The sextet will drop its debut, Bare Essentials, complete with the band's signature horns and jazzy vocalist Kathy Ruestow, Friday night with a concert at the Union, 121 E. College.

Opening the album, "Here Comes the Train" rolls through with a long instrumental intro that climbs up and down the harmonic scale until Ruestow's vocals kick in and virtually take over.

Another standout piece, the title track, slides in at the end, closing off the five-song original record with a tune oddly reminiscent of Texas singer Lyle Lovett's "Penguins." The similar lyrics (Lovett sings "I don't go for fancy cars / For diamond rings / Or movie stars," while Ruestow belts out "I don't need no smoky bars / Or fancy cars / Or movie stars") are sultry coming out of Ruestow's downtown-lounge-like sound.

Bare Essentials is a stunted version of the New Beats' live concerts, which have gained the group a strong Iowa City following. Its shows inspire listeners to get up and dance because its sound is compelling when meshed with the right venue. The album stands on its own if you like brassy jazz and the quality of layered beats put forth by the trumpet, sax, guitar, bass, and drums. But for the full experience, see the band live.
- Brigid Marshall - The Daily Iowan 3.29.07

"In the groove: Jazz fest melds rock, funk"

“In addition, local musicians performing on the main stage and side stages will provide crossover sounds, Grismore said. Iowa City-based New Beat Society is an example. The six-piece band plays a mix of funk, soul, jazz and rhythm and blues.” - Deanna Truman-Cook - Iowa City Press-Citizen 7.28.07

"What I'm Into..."

The New Year has been good to 25 year old Nik Gruber. Two of the bands—Friends and New Beat Society--The Iowa City guitarist plays in have released debut albums. Friends’ album is titled “Friends with Benefits.” All eight tunes are Gruber’s original compositions. He also put his stamp on many of the songs for New Beat Society’s EP “Bare Essentials.” Although both of the bands are jazz groups, they have very different sounds. New Beat Society’s music is based in rhythm and blues and funk. Also, the group has a vocalist, whereas Friends is a solely instrumental group. Friends’ music has also garnered a reputation for being improvisational. In addition to playing in the two groups, Gruber often can be spotted filling in with other bands as well. His day job is giving guitar lessons at Kirkwood Community College. To say the least, he can’t imagine life without a guitar in hand. “It is just what I have always done,” he said. “A lot of people kill time in front of the TV… I have always had a guitar. I have a hard time putting it down.”
Music/Radio: Gruber’s love of music runs the gamut. However, it should come as no surprise that he most enjoys listening to jazz artists. Guitarist Ben Monder is one of his favorite performers. Other favorites include organ player Larry Goldings and the legendary musician-composer-band leader Frank Zappa.
Movies/TV: Though Gruber does not spend a lot of time at home, when he does he enjoys watching episodes of “Thirty Days” and “Entourage.”
Bars/Restaurants: The Sanctuary and the Iowa City Yacht Club feel like home to Gruber because he has performed there so many times. They also are some of his favorite spots to listen to other bands. His favorite restaurants are Devotay and Taste on Melrose.
Freetime: When he is not performing, Gruber enjoys chilling at home with family and friends and his beagle, Milo. He also likes to go walking and hiking.
- Deanna Truman-Cook - Iowa City Press-Citizen 3.29.07

"Local artist breaks with band and perfects solo act, guitar skills"

With six albums under his belt and a music range including jazz, funk and R&B, Athens musician Nik Gruber has loved playing music most of his life.
A native of Omaha, Neb., educated in Iowa, Gruber moved to Athens last summer and is working on developing his solo act.
Gruber said that his appreciation of music began before he could even remember.
“My dad played guitar when I was growing up and he listened to a lot of blues and jazz, and other slightly offbeat artists like Steely Dan,” Gruber said.
Gruber began performing as a guitarist himself at the age of 16 before going to the University of Iowa for college.
“Iowa City is a strong music town like Athens. There isn’t a lot outside of it, but there are a decent number of clubs in town. Because it is a college town, (many different) forms of music are there, including reggae/afro-beat,” Gruber said.
When completing graduate school, Gruber wrote a compilation of songs that he used as his masters thesis. He performed these songs with a collection of his friends that became the band Friends With Benefits.
“We were the house band for three years at the Iowa City Jazz Festival and just decided to keep doing it … I was spoiled to have a band that would play all my music, no questions asked,” Gruber said.
In May of 2006, Gruber started to play in the funk and R&B band New Beat Society with other previous University of Iowa classmates.
“New Beat Society was the most successful group I’ve been in and the biggest touring band I’ve been in as well,” Gruber said.
When he and his wife moved to Athens this year, Gruber was forced to leave New Beat Society.
“They decided to hang it up after I left,” Gruber said. “But I’ll probably still work with those people … it’s hard to sever those great musical connections.”
Now that he is without a band, Gruber is trying to perfect his solo act and mastering the finer details of performing alone, like playing rhythm and bass on his guitar at the same time.
“In a way it’s really liberating because there is no rehearsal, and I have a studio in my home, so I can record by myself … I am 26 now, so by the time I am 36, maybe I can be so good it’s scary,” Gruber said.
- Kelly Kettering - The Post, Athens, OH 11.1.07

"Jazz guitar and dulcimer set for this Saturday: This month’s Late Night Logan features something for everyone"

LOGAN-On Saturday Nov. 3, Logan Town Center will be jumping to jazz guitar music while the sweet strains of dulcimers fill the air a few blocks away. There is something for everyone during this month’s Late Night Logan. Enjoy the free music and art exhibits and visit the participating downtown shops and restaurants that stay open late the first Saturday of every month. At The Piano Works Showroom and Gallery: From 7-9 p.m., jazz guitarist Nik Gruber of Athens will display his solo guitar stylings. He recently relocated to Athens from Iowa City where he earned his Master of Arts degree in Jazz Studies and performed with numerous Iowa City bands. His solo show is in the style of his favorite “one-man bands” such as Tuck Andress and Tommy Emmanuel. An entirely instrumental show, Gruber plucks out the bass lines, chords, and melodies to his favorite songs, adding percussive pops and chimey harmonics to give the impression of a larger ensemble. He will perform jazz classics by Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus, as well as popular tunes by The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles. Also, a mixed media exhibit by the Southern Ohio Women Artists—“Women of Influence”—continues on display. - The Logan Daily News, Logan, OH 11.1.07

"This week's best bet--GrooveShip"

Get your groove on. GrooveShip got its start way back in 1994, but the final lineup—Marcus Perkins, Saul Lubaroff, Nik Gruber, and Brian Cooper—didn’t come together until last year. According to the group’s website,, Perkins always wanted a band that played popular music from the ‘70s like Buddy Miles, Sly and the Family Stone and Earth, Wind and Fire. Well, Perkins got his wish, and now this foursome of funksters is hitting the local music scene with a vengeance. If you missed the band’s set at the Iowa City Jazz Festival earlier this month you’re in luck, because this week you have two more chances to catch them: tonight at Coralville Music in the Park series (S.T. Morrison Park, 1506 Eighth St. in Coralville) and tomorrow at the Friday Night Concert Series in downtown Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall. Both shows begin at 6:30 p.m. Even better? Both shows are free. Groovy! - The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, IA 7.20.06

"One society with a new beat"

Like many Iowa City bands, New Beat Society dreams of making it big. Rather than chasing that vision with the same kind of music a thousand other bands play, New Beat Society is pursuing it with a unique sound—a blend of soul and funk with some jazz and world beat music mixed in.
Drummer Justin LeDuc sums up the six-piece ensemble’s sound as a “diversification of music taste. What we wanted to do was find a style that appealed to a large group of people that was more than a long techno beat,” said LeDuc, 18.
About half the music is covers and the other half is originals. Lead singer Kathy Ruestow, 23, belts out songs from queen of soul Aretha Franklin as well as rhythm and blues king Stevie Wonder. She also performs contemporary songs from artists such as Grammy Award-winning jazz singer Jill Scott.
The band dresses to impress, arriving on stage in black suits with Ruestow wearing a formal evening dress. If they make it remains to be seen. However, with just more than a year under their belt, the band is off to a good start. They have begun to create a following after playing in a wide array of clubs in the area. With the release of a CD titled “Business Casual” in early December, they expect their fan base to grow.
Because a few members are still in college, the group has to limit its touring. A good week is two to three gigs in Eastern Iowa. Half of the band met in a jazz improvisation class at the University of Iowa. The other half came about through friends. To Ruestow, a 2005 UI music graduate, the band is taking what she learned in college to the next level. “We can experiment with what we learned in school, the jazz elements, and have fun,” Ruestow said.
The group is starting to gain a reputation as a dance band, and that’s fine with bass player Ben Soltau, 23. In fact, it’s one of the things he and others in the group take pride in. “When we are at the Yacht Club, we can pretty much play anything, and they would dance to it,” Soltau said.
New Beat attracts the college crowd as well as young professionals and older adults. It all goes back to the music, Soltau said. Some of it has a hip-hop fell to it, appealing to a younger crowd, and some of it is more straight jazz or soul music, appealing to an older clientele. UI graduate student Marcelo Mena is one of the band’s many fans. He’s seen New Beat perform too many times to count. “Despite their young age, they perform as if they are veterans, as if they have been playing in live bars in Chicago for 20 years,” Mena said. It’s the freshness and the modern sound of the band’s jazz that sets them apart from others, said Mena, a former music director for KRUI 89.7-FM.
He’s not the only one who thinks the band has a future. Iowa City world-beat ensemble Euforquestra has taken the band under its wings, helping it with booking and publicity. Euforquestra recently began Euforquestra Productions to help area bands learn the tools of the trade that they have spent years learning. New Beat Society is the first band that Euforquestra Productions has partnered with. “It’s a group I definitely believe in,” said Ryan Jeter, tenor saxophonist and vocalist for Euforquestra. “I think they have the potential to become one of the best bands in the area.”
- Deanna Truman-Cook - Iowa City Press-Citizen 10.26.06


Friends with Benefits (2006)

Nik Gruber also appears on:
Bobby Domsic (2007)
New Beat Society: Bare Essentials (2007)
Israel Neuman Quartet: Polarity (2005)
Bob Paredes and Standard AIR (2004)
BBQ Guitar (1998)



Friends first formed in the summer of 2005 as the house rhythm section for a jam session at the Iowa City Jazz Festival. The group featured Greg Mazunik on bass, Paul Kresowik on the drums, and Nik Gruber on guitar. We enjoyed playing together so much that we booked some gigs and began performing in the Iowa City area.
As we continued to perform we included a variety of fourth members in the band. This was in part to fill out arrangements, but also for the opportunity to play with some outstanding saxophonists including Chris Merz, Nathaniel Gao, and Mike Giles. Friends continued to operate as a trio/sometimes quartet playing primarily Gruber's compositions as well as a few things from the standards book, a lot of Thelonious Monk, and some more rocking fare such as Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix. This great diversity in influences and repertoire is indicative of a larger trend in jazz toward contemporary rhythms and songs. Bands such as The Bad Plus, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, David Binney, and Ben Allison's Medicine Wheel were inspirational in this regard.
In the spring of 2006 the group came together to record a collection of compositions written by guitarist Nik Gruber as part of his MA in Jazz Studies from the University of Iowa. Original Friends Paul and Greg were along for the ride as was the extremely talented and dedicated saxophonist Bobby Domsic. The diversity of the album best represents the Friends sound: it borrows from myriad traditions and styles. Hard-bop, break beat, Afro-Cuban, Indian, progressive rock, fusion, folk, and abstract improvisation are woven together to create a tapestry that can (as the group suggests) only be labeled "Music."
Nik Gruber performs with a variety of other groups and as a solo artist. For a complete calendar go to