self-titled – Action Figure Party
Blue Thumb Records 314-543-417-2
Action Figure Party may have released its debut album in May but the
band's mastermind/songwriter/keyboardist/vocalist/producer Greg Kurstin has
been making his presence felt for years among the southern California music
Only a cult following may be familiar with the eclectic yet poppy numbers
that appeared via his work on Geggy Tah's two albums on the Luaka Bop label,
but you can get a taste of it now that Mercedes Benz is using Geggy's tune,
"Whoever You Are" in its commercials.
The album is viewed as belonging to a band but, at its core, it is Kurstin
the ringleader of a group of players who respect his work. Taking part in
this initial endeavor are John Molo (Phil Lesh and Friends), Flea (Red Hot
Chili Peppers), Yuval Gubay (Soul Coughing), Jose Pasillas (Incubus), Mike
Elizondo (Dr. Dre/Eminem), Grial McNair (No Doubt), David Rlicke (Beck) and
Sean Lennon. They're not only helping out a colleague but returning the
to someone who has appeared on albums by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Matthew
Sweet, among others, and toured with Barenaked Ladies.
As for Kurstin's background, it may surprise some that it's based in
the world of jazz. He studied under Charles Mingus' pianist Jaki Byard in
York and California. He's also performed with other jazz artists and has led
his own jazz quartet.
So we know that Kurstin has the chops to put together, but does he on
this album? Absolutely YES!
On AFP's self-titled debut, Kurstin turns his back, to some degree, on
the rock world. He may lean more towards the world of jambands but he's kept
his refined sense of lean melodies intact. The album's early tracks cater to
fine funky grooves with a few vocals thrown in on several numbers for good
"Action Figure Party" is the type of groove record that makes you think
at times of early Medeski, Martin and Wood because the keyboard is the main
event for these groove forays, but Kurstin keeps the arrangements sharp and
to the point. Of the 12 tracks, only one (barely) reaches seven minutes.
As he explained when I caught AFP open for Barenaked Ladies last month, a
live setting will enable the material to grow in many ways. He and his
tourmates did just that in their allotted time. He pointed out that when the
band headlines a date, they take the opportunity to go even further.
It should be no surprise that from the opening of Everybody Ready and
onward, the music easily gets one's head bopping and his rump shaking.
The music's atmosphere gets a charge through the use of classic keyboards
(Fender Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer organ, Moog synthesizer). The use
occasional samples via turntables may give it a contemporary feel but the
overall sound embraces the funk and jazz rhythms, especially the '70s.
But Kurstin isn't content to just put together a bunch of groove-ridden
songs. The title track and Clock Radio display that he maintains his
offbeat lyrical mindset. Action Figure Party pretty much relates what
title says as plastic action figures get together for a good time. In the
case of Clock Radio it's the tale of how his digital timer may
his lucid dreams but it wakes him up for another wonderful day; a universal
occurrence with a catchy chorus.
AFP then add another twist to the proceedings by knocking out several
instrumentals that rely less on groove but more on composition. They're just
as enticing. "Green" evokes the feel of Jan Hammer's work on Jeff Beck's
class jazz fusion recordings, while "The Clapper" goes for a Blue Note feel.
While he constantly revises the album's musical personality and
encourages his ad hoc grouping towards new areas. The changes do not become
confusing because they smoothly slide into each other.
Kurstin and the rest of AFP are able to succeed from start to finish
because there's an inherent simplicity running through Action Figure Party.
It doesn't strive to overcomplicate matters or try too hard to impress. It
does what it does, enjoying the company of the songs and those who play
and then moves on its way.