Robert Walter's 20th Congress
(Fog City Records)
With the durability of a Volkswagen Bug, the groovy organ sound of the '60s refuses to die, and in the hands of former Greyboy Allstar Robert Walter, it gets an attractive face lift, incorporating eclectic influences and an experimental approach while retaining the soulful melodic essence pioneered by artists like Booker T., Jimmy Smith and Art Neville.
A distinct New Orleans flavor permeates this record, thanks in no small part to Galactic drummer Stanton Moore (whose solo debut "All Kooked Out" also came out on Fog City). Moore plays on all nine tracks, laying down a heavier foundation of "fat-backed" street funk than on previous Walter and Greyboy efforts. There's also a cover of New Orleans luminary Dr. John's "(Everybody Wants to Get Rich) Rite Away" (from Desitively Bonaroo, one of two LPs the Dr. cut with the Meters in the '70s), which--with white-hot solos from Walter and saxophonist Cochemea Gastelum--translates remarkably well into this improv-groove setting.
"The Yodel," an idiosyncratic John Patton/Grant Green tune, pays tribute to Patton--the "quintessential '60s organist," in Walter's estimation--whose bluesy melodies and modal harmonies largely defined the Blue Note/Prestige sound of that decade. Grinding, spiky solos from Walter and guest guitarist Elgin Park (another former Greyboy), along with enticing snare press rolls from Moore (evoking mentor Johnny Vidacovich) add spice to this track, which ends with a bonus "outtake" that isolates drums and bass in sweaty groove euphoria.
The only other cover--"hidden" at the end of the record--is the Judas Priest hit "You've Got Another Thing Coming." It's a curve-ball, but this band hits it out of the park, proving that arena rock can, in fact, be deliciously transformed into instrumental hipster funk. It's more laid back, to be sure, but retains an essential dose of testosterone-fueled zeal.
All other tunes are original, displaying unusual harmonic complexity for instrumental funk and a broad palette of influences and ideas, but the most important cut on this record comes near the end. "Blues for Y2K," written by bassist David Carano, is an atmospheric, trance-inducing sojourn through nocturnal landscapes that bears the influence of German prog-rock group Can. Saxophonist Gastelum has discovered the electric sax (as pioneered by Eddie Harris), and he exploits it wonderfully, emitting mesmerizing mastodon mewlings, mutated by psychedelic echo-effects. Walter's organ bubbles up from dark lagoons while Moore's drums and Carano's bass churn a thick, brooding groove and two percussionists embellish with eerie chimes and aboriginal croaking sounds--like chimps who've lost their way at night in a mossy, moon and mist-laden bayou.
On a computer, this "enhanced CD" offers access to a "virtual mixer," allowing the listener to toy with "Blues for Y2K" like a studio engineer, isolating, muting or adjusting volume for each channel and panning instruments from left to right speaker. A video of the band performing "live" and musician bios are also available.
Besides being conducive to mind-bending good times, "Blues For Y2K" is significant in that it is at once organic, improvisational, funky, electronic and futuristic. In kinship with recent experiments by Garage A Trois (featuring Moore, Charlie Hunter and Skerik), it sheds light on what very well may be the next frontier for avant-funksters.
--Jonathan TabakWANT TO BUY THIS CD? CLICK HERE
Check out Robert Walter's website at http://www.fogworld.com/robert for more info on the band and the 20th Congress' gig schedule. You can also listen to their entire album online, in stereo and for free!
Article copyright © 2000 Offbeat Magazine.