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Greyboy Allstars, Recher Theater, Towson, MD- 4/9

With a bit of preshow banter to a warmed up audience, the Greboy Allstars took to the stage in front of an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred. The Recher Theater, a long and somewhat narrow single level auditorium located in the Japanese restaurant district of Towson, Maryland, has surprisingly good sound and a stage that provides a clear line of site from most areas of the venue. The band is comprised of Karl Denson on tenor, alto sax and flute, Zak Najor on drums, Chris Stillwell on bass, Elgin Park on guitar and Robert Walter on Hammond organ, Clavinet and Fender Rhodes. Formed in 1993 from an alliance between DJ Greyboy and Karl Denson, the lineup is thick with seasoned veterans, talented and practiced from years performing on the road. Unlike Denson’s Tiny Universe, this band seems to share its leading voice equally between players, each bringing a unique element to the table.

As the house lights cut out and the band took the stage, it felt as though we had stepped into 1970. These guys seemed to have taken conscious steps towards a throw-back look. With the exception of the drummer, the band all wore blazers and have stylish haircuts. The instruments are vintage as well and the tones the band creates reflects that. Opening with “Whatever Happened to TV,” the band hit the ground running. The music has catchy hooks and a driving beat, and the skill of the players towards improvisation fills the solo sections with fiery lead lines and swirling organ riffs. The similarity in tone between the organ and guitar allows the two to trade off supporting rhythm roles without noticeable difference in the overall feel of the song, which is often a bouncy and happy sound. The first tunes had a similar feel, that reflects what comes to mind when one thinks of Greyboy, but the use of Walter’s “Impervious” took the show into a darker corner, slower and filled with delay effects and distortion, and based around a slightly different writing style then the boogaloo progressions of the other tunes.

Park’s rhythm playing is amazing, as he appears to effortlessly strum through the changes but a rich warm tone comes sliding through the house PA. He plays a worn looking semi-hollow Gibson guitar, and doesn’t constantly fiddle with distortion or ride a wah pedal. His playing, as do the others, reflects the confidence of a multifaceted and proven artist.

Always a crowd favorite from both his horn work and exuberant stage presence, Karl Denson took the rich rhythms the band was building and gave it a leading voice. At times sharing the same hooks as Park’s guitar, the leading riffs were full and colorful, and the soloing, though often not taking the music in entirely different directions, was certainly inventive and solid. Denson, who is a great front man, also would occasionally step to the back of the stage and let the band work, pick up a cowbell or maracas and groove with the rhythms, and at times step back up for some paired down heavy alto sax playing accompanied only by the drummer.

Robert Walter is a solid keyboardist, comfortable in a variety of styles but strongest in exorcising the demons of Lonnie Liston Smith and the great 70s organ players. This held true tonight, as he ripped on some dirty lead lines and screamed out some effortless right handed solo work, batting at the keys with his left to create the distinct percussive organ squelch one can hear in much of his music. The bell ringing warmth of the Rhodes was a great complement to the band, and it was there that he did his thickest rhythm playing, hammering on chords that reverberated throughout the audience. It was difficult to hear the Clavinet from the audience, and only occasionally did the throaty crunch make it to the crowd’s ears.

Zak Najor’s drumming is solid, and he clearly warmed to the crowd a bit towards the second set, kicking on a shiny new Remo bass drum, and tapping out the framework for the rest of the band to play in. Chris Stillwell’s bass playing gave the sound a breadth and low end it requires to exist, though one would like to hear a bit more of him. A unique moment was his trading of instruments with Park at the beginning of the second set, hitting some hot licks on the guitar, and further playing bass rhythms and the tune’s hooks on the higher pitched instrument.

The band brought material from the Tiny Universe’s songbook, Robert Walter’s catalog, classic Greyboy material and from their recently recorded album. A highlight was Elgin Park’s singing on “How Glad I Am.” Out of nowhere, he slid his seat a bit closer to the microphone and belted it while steadily strumming away, ripping into hot solo sections and showing he could really do what he wants. The band did a surprising amount of singing and with the exception of Walter, each had a vocal mike and would chime in to harmonize with each other on choruses, though Denson took the majority of the leads. It was nice to hear their voices, as this seemed to make both the band and the crowd a bit more lighthearted.

The show overall was great. There was a bit of tension at times between the players, even some stressed faces when the tunes took a turn into an unclear direction, and one can’t help but think that more practiced pieces would have improved the overall quality. The crowd was occasionally hostile, not so much to the band as each other. One too many pre-show cocktails perhaps. Further, the visual presentation left a bit to be desired, not from the band as much as the lighting setup. Effective to be sure but not the positive addition it could have been. That being said, I’d see them again anytime. The level of musicianship is quite impressive and the vibe they create is solid, jazzy and happy. The willingness to speak right to the crowd, live it up and showboat a bit when the time is right puts the listeners where they want to be- right in the middle. The “Jam Sandwich” encore was a familiar crowd pleaser, and the wide variety of the fans strolled out onto the Maryland streets pleased at 3 hours of solid entertainment.

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