Having formed almost fifteen years ago in 1993, The Greyboy AllStars are an urban myth of sorts. Their early forays into funk flowed throughout the jamband scene that coalesced in the mid-to-late 1990s, which is where the principals of the quintet found a name for themselves. Now hornman Karl Denson (leader of Tiny Universe) and keyboardist Robert Walter (head of 20th Congress) are principals (though only slightly more so than their peers) of the first Greyboy AllStars studio recording in a decade.
What Happened to Television? extends the original concept of the band as a collective of young turks parlaying old school funk. "V Neck Sweater' immediately calls to mind the classic sound of King Curtis and Jr Walker, while "Left Coast Boogaloo, appropriate to its geographical and musical roots, is reminiscent, but not derivative of, middle-period Crusaders. The cryptically titled (as are many of the tracks) "Pigeons Under Water hearkens to Curtis Mayfield's soundtracks such as that of Superfly (Rhino, 1972), and suggests the breadth of influence The Impressions have had on another generation of musicians as well.
Naturally, rhythm predominates on this CD, but it's the contrast of beats the band employs that makes it so intriguing. The rhythm section of bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Zak Najor dig in hard on "Deck Shoes, as the airy flute of Karl Denson floats back and forth above them. Elgin Park's flinty guitar figures call your attention on the aforementioned "Left Coast Boogaloo before you notice the ultra-smooth Hammond lines of Robert Walter. Is there a more effortless organist than this erstwhile collaborator of Stanton Moore and Bobby Previte?
The vocal tracks interspersed on What Happened to Television? are used like the soloistslargely effectively-as textural contrasts. The wry irony of vocals, then, is not exactly intrusive but the charm in Inara George's voice and the delivery of The Living Sisters is nevertheless no substitute for sound of horns and keyboards. Cuts like "How Glad I Am are purely secondary to the straight instrumentals, while the hokey likes of "Give the Drummer Some More should only be used on stage to introduce the band within a hot club environment.
The DJ from whom this band takes its name acts as producer of the project, only becoming prominent on his turntables on "Old School Cylons. That doesn't mean this music doesn't sound totally contemporary, but you can only hope the reunion of The Grey Boy AllStars isn't merely ephemeral. If they mange to remain stable, they should be able to not just extend a timeless style of music, but eventually forge a style they can truly call their own.
Personnel: Robert Walter: keyboards; Elgin Park: guitar, vocals; Karl Denson: saxophone, flute, vocals, percussion; Chris Stillwell: bass, vocals; Zak Najor: drums, percussion, vocals; DJ Greyboy: turntables; Inara George: vocals; The Living Sisters: vocals.