Robert Walter: Super Heavy Organ (2005)
Organist Robert Walter is best known as a founding member of the dance-jazz funksters known as Greyboy Allstars. But since the mid-1990s he's also been involved in other projects, like the George Clinton tribute band The Clinton Administrationfeaturing instrumental workups of classic Parliament and Funkadelic tunesand Robert Walter's 20th Congress, an update on 1970s jazz/funk. Super Heavy Organ is the first disc he's made since relocating to New Orleans, and by recruiting a group of notable Crescent City musicians he's created an album that not only fits comfortably in the jamband jazz/funk space he's made home all along, but also introduces some new elements as well.
With bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovichthe rhythm section for New Orleans supergroup Astral Projecton seven of Walter's twelve original tunes, this "live in the studio session has a built-in chemistry. Stanton Moorepreviously intersecting with Walter in both The Clinton Administration and 20th Congresskeeps the telepathy equally alive on the five tracks where he replaces Vidacovich. Saxophonist Tim Green may be better known in rock circles, having played with the Neville Brothers, Indigo Girls, and Peter Gabriel, but he's got some serious jazz chops.
There's an immediacy about the whole record, right from the first notes of the greasy funk workout "Adelita. Walter's songs could be played by rhythm sections from anywhere and sound good, but there's a slap-happy looseness about the New Orleans approach that makes them sound great. It's less about virtuosityalthough there's no lack of thatand more about a collective vibe. Even singer Anthony Farrell, who appears on three tracks, isn't any kind of "lead singer. Instead, he contributes howls and moans to "Spell and some spoken word to "Don't Hate, Congratulate that are down in the mix, constituting integral parts rather than standing out.
Walter's material may be groove-centric, but the group's energy and open ears keep things from becoming predictable. "El Cuerve may revolve around a two-chord vamp in 7/4, but Vidacovich and Singleton keep things fluid underneath powerful solos from both Green and Walter. "Cabrillo, the album closer and, at nine minutes, the longest piece, swings in 5/4 and evidences Walter's concerns beyond funk and soul, with a Latin vibe that's grist for one of his most purely adventurous solos on the record.
Still, Walter can't forget his funk. "Hardware is down-and-dirty, with Vidacovich laying down a lazy behind-the-beat backbeat peppered by the occasional military roll, while Moore creates a huge sound behind Walter's combo of organ and clavinet on the up-tempo "Poor Tom.
Walter differentiates himself from other contemporary Hammond players like Gary Versace and Larry Goldings with a purview that extends well beyond the jazz tradition. And while he shares some ties to the jamband aesthetic of MMW, Walters remains more direct. Still, with its combination of unassailable grooves filtered through a New Orleans sensibility and open-ended spontaneity, Super Heavy Organ is sure to find fans from a variety of stylistic vantages.
Track Listing: Adelita; Kickin' Up Dust; Spell; El Cuervo; Criminals Have a Name for It; 34 Small; DOn't Hate, Congratulate; Poor Tom; (smells like) Dad's Drunk Again; Big Dummy; Hardware; Cabrillo.
Personnel: Robert Walter: Hammond organ, clavinet, piano, melodica, percussion; Stanton Moore: drums (1-3,8,10); Johnny Vidacovich: drums (4-7,9,11,12); Tim Green: tenor saxophone; James Singleton: bass. Special guest Anthony Farrell: vocals (3,5,7).