Robert Walter’s 20th Congress – Get Thy Bearings (2013)

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Robert Walter has been going back and forth between his two main acid jazz projects the Greyboy Allstars and his 20th Congress since the 90s, but 2013 is the year when both worlds collided. Just last April, the Allstars issued their first album in six years, Inland Emperor and now, Walter’s 20th Congress also reconvened for their first since 2003’s Giving Up the Ghost.

Get Thy Bearings is nearly a Greyboy Allstars record, anyway, as Greyboy members Elgin Park (guitar, bass), Aaron Redfield (drums) and for a couple of tracks Karl Denson (sax, flute) make up most of this edition of the 20th Congress. Cochemea Gastelum (alto, tenor and baritone sax) and Chuck Prada (percussion) complete the group.

As one of acid jazz’s star keyboard performers, Walter is all about applying the B3 magic of Richard “Groove” Holmes and Big John Patton to the groovalicious sounds found in funk, rock and fusion around the turn of the 70s. That’s undeniably his mission again for Bearings.

Acid jazz records are meant to be party records, but as far as a jazzy party record goes, Get Thy Bearings is a pretty mature effort. Groove vamps are paramount but Robert Walter knows what chord changes are, too, and never runs an idea into the ground. The chugging riff of “Hunk” featuring Denson blowing it like Maceo is good enough to lure anyone of the dance floor, but Walter also demonstrates how teaming up the B3 and a funky piano can amp up the hip factor for this and every other song.

Gastelum is no slouch on the sax, just witness his brawny Wilton Felder tenor on the AM radio ready melody of “Little Business.” Walter’s recent residency in New Orleans has had an impact on the music he’s crafted on this record in subtle ways: “Dog Party,” could have been the theme song to some mod 70s sitcom (Walter’s does a lot of movie soundtrack work), but this time he solos not on the B3 but on piano, playing it much like Professor Longhair. “Foxhunting” adds an early Meters touch to the Latin charged funk. Gastelum’s electric sax gets a little freaky toward the end, but that groove stands pat.

“Don’t Chin The Dog” is built up from a high register bass riff, and there’s an unusual pairing of Denson’s flute with the B3 organ. Meanwhile, the bass and guitar both from Park pair up and push along that bass riff together as the song upshifts into a slippery boogaloo on the chorus.

Walter covers a couple of big names from the 60s, but you probably wouldn’t know it. The title song is a Donovan deep cut from 1968 with a groove good enough that Walter doesn’t need to mess with it much, and follows the lyric lines on the right side of his piano. Jimi Hendrix’s jazzy “Up From The Skies” is even more far out and psychedelic than Jimi’s original: spooky synth noises swirling around Park’s rubbery electric bass phraseology, Redfield’s restless drumming and Walter’s Hammond noodling. Here, the band stretches out well beyond what any regular party band dares to go.

But Robert Walter’s 20th Congress ain’t no regular party band, anyway. A looser version of the Greyboy Allstars, Robert Walter leads his 20th Congress into another session of rare groovin’.

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Get Thy Bearings is from The Royal Potato Family and goes on sale June 25. Visit Robert Walter’s website for more info.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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