- Robert Walter's 20th Congress
- Get Thy Bearings
The Royal Potato Family
All hail Robert Walter’s 20th Congress – back in session with their first studio album in 10 years. While keyboard master Walter has had plenty going on in the meantime (including his spot as a founding member of the Greyboy Allstars and collaborations with the likes of Stanton Moore, George Porter Jr., and Steve Kimock), his work with the Congress has always offered up some of his most out-there playing.
Walter is joined on Get Thy Bearings by longtime Congressman Cochemea Gastelum on sax, guitarist/bassist Elgin Park, Aaron Redfield on drums, and Chuck Prada on percussion with hornman Karl Denson guesting on a couple of tunes. The album’s nine tracks are a cool hybrid that’s heavy on the funk; a little bit old school; a little bit exploratory; and always a hoot to put an ear to (and often shake something, as well).
The opener “Hunk” is one of those “shake something” numbers: Walter doles out dollops of keys like warm jelly over top of the chukka-chukka groove with Denson showing up at the 2:25 mark with a blast of butt-grinding sax raunch. “Dog Party” is another guaranteed gotta-mover, packed with a vintage good-time R&B feel that almost segues into a vibe similar to Traffic’s “Glad” when Prada’s hand percussion nuzzles up against the piano. Gastelum’s sax is cool in a can when he takes a break on “Little Business”; his riff swaps with Walter on “Foxhunting” are nasty and wild; and his moment under the streetlight on the title track establishes the tune’s late-night tension. Park’s bass is the backbone of “Don’t Chin The Dog” with everyone weaving between the vertebrae – including some slippery flute by Denson.
The album closes in grand fashion with Walter and the Congress exploring Jimi Hendrix’ “Up From The Skies”. Hendrix covers can be risky business. What’s the best way to approach them? Try to out-Jimi Jimi? That ain’t gonna happen. And most attempts to pretend it’s 1969 and everything’s groovy are going to end up feeling like a cartoon, right? But there’s none of any of that here: Walter ushers things in with billows of multi-colored sonic mists over upper-fretboard bass mutterings and drum chaos. The main body of the song features observations from Walter’s keys, gliding high above the tumbling rhythms of Redfield and Park; Prada joins in with some fierce percussion a little over two minutes in, ratcheting up the intensity a few more notches. Walter’s B3 chirps/growls/gurgles/yowls like a sweat-drenched, speed-fueled jazz diva scatting her way through the midnight hour as the song soars into the final turn and enters the home stretch. At that point, the balance of power shifts and it’s Park’s bass that propels the beast as Redfield goes into an intense roll. Walter’s colored mists have now solidified and he throws buckets full of them at the song’s canvas. The end is fairly abrupt; the massive picture vaporizes; there is silence.
Now that’s how you do Jimi.
No doubt about it: Get Thy Bearings is a Robert Walter album – a great one – but beyond the keyboard wizardry, there’s some fine ensemble work here by some players who prove themselves to be adept at speaking in any number of musical tongues.
Congress is indeed in session.
You can find Brian Robbins chirping, growling, gurgling, and yowling over at www.brian-robbins.com