Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR- 9/13
Remember back in the 80s when Jazz made that derogatory remark to Rock about A Flock Of Seagulls? Rock said “I’ll show you” and didn’t pull out anything but a synthesizer until the early 90s and Jazz was exiled to a 10-year sentence living at Dave Grusin’s house. The good news is that Rock and Jazz are on speaking terms again and they’ve started hanging out together at house parties (bringing R&B along for the ride).
Proof of this develop came on a recent Friday when Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge hosted an excruciatingly funky night of (yes!) jazz/rock by Robert Walter’s 20th Congress. Keyboardist Walter was a founding member of the Greyboy All-Stars before peeling off to do his own thing. Joining him onstage were NYC jazz and funk fixture Cochemea Gastelum on sax, Austin, Texas guitar slinger Josh Perdue (covering both bass and guitar) and the insanely talented Baton Rouge-born drummer Simon Lott.
The band opened with the perfect song to highlight Lott’s Louisiana roots, a rolling and tumbling reading of “Maple Plank,” from Walter’s 2008 set, Cure All. It established from “Note One” that Lott was going to be the man to watch on this particular night. Even though his approach appears almost painfully rigid, the results are supremely fluid and funky (and weirdly hypnotizing).
Making certain to work out plenty of cuts from his newest disc, Get Thy Bearings, Walter and Co. followed “Maple Plank” with the white go-go booted groove of “Dog Party.” It was Gastelum who grabbed the spotlight, showing why he’s filled his resume with sessions ranging from Archie Shepp to Paul Simon to Amy Winehouse. No straight pop player is Gastelum, who used “Dog Party” and the ensuing “Get Thy Bearings” to display all manner of jazz riffage.
Perdue stepped out of the dark recesses of the Doug Fir’s dimly lit confines to kick off a version Funk Inc.’s “Kool Is Back,” offering some funky interplay with Gastelum. “Snakes and Spiders” was a highlight of the set for fans of Walter’s quirky keyboard approach, a funky breakdown that included an array of glitches and tweaks from his overdriven keyboard. Before wrapping up the set with “Impervious” and “Don’t Chin The Dog,” the quartet ran through of an amazing 10-minute version of “Crux,” a blinding mix of noise that sounded like a combination of Southern Gospel and Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Again, Lott proved himself, weirdly stiff approach notwithstanding.
For the second set, the band dug deeper into the catalog as well as some tunes from their favorite colleagues. The heavy backbeat of David Batiste and the Gladiators “Funky Soul” turned a sweaty dance party into an even sweatier dance party. The crowd was plenty warm for the defiantly quirky rhythm of “Corry’s Snail and Slug Death,” featuring Gastelum sounding as much like Sonny Rollins as Maceo Parker. Other highlights of the set include a down-and-dirty take on Stone Alliance’s “Sweetie Pie,” the obligatory reggae cool down of the Melodians “Rivers of Babylon” and the pure 70’s groove of Miles Davis’ “Honky Tonk,” proof positive that, yeah, Jazz and Rock are hanging out together again.
Walter and company will continue to tour the US throughout September and October. If their upcoming shows are anything like what happened in Portland, entry is cheap, the clubs are cozy and the vibe is all about the dance.