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The Greyboy Allstars: Inland Emperor

Doug Collette By

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Something of a modern urban funk legend, due in large measure to the high-profile solo endeavors of keyboardist Robert Walter and horn man Karl Denson, The Greyboy Allstars nevertheless know intuitively when to reconvene to the greatest effect. Inland Emperor is their first collaboration in the six years and it bears all the earmarks of their twenty-year old chemistry.

"Profundo Grosso" starts things off with a guitar-heavy arrangement underpinned by Walter's sinuous organ lines. Stop and go syncopation surrounds vocalist John Bigham's singing on "Bitch Inside Me," the falsetto tones of which effectively contrast the heavily rhythmic tune. Denson's sax leads the Greyboys through the brighter tones of "Multiplier," the churning beats of which illustrate the cohesion that invariably draws this band together at regular intervals.

Its placement in the track sequence also displays the production savvy each of the four core members, including bassist Chris Stillwell and guitarist Elgin Park (at whose studio Mickey Petrallia, who's worked with Beck and Flight of the Conchords, oversaw the project). Running order of the dozen cuts wouldn't mean so much if it were not for the well-honed structure of the tunes, an all the more impressive feat considering everyone in the band, including drummer of late Aaron Redfield, contributed to composition of the material.

On "Old Crow" The Allstars stylishly assimilate Seventies' pop influences, yet leave room for improvisation, real and projected for the stage: it's simple to imagine this track going on for protracted periods as the quintet alternates the straightforward vocals with deep dives into rhythm workouts. "Bomb Pop" (great title!) is more of the same, only wholly instrumental in recalling the ever-so-hard and infectious funk of Oakland's Tower of Power, but with greater prominence provided to the rhythm section: drums, bass and guitar joust with Denson's horn and mesh with percussion for an even more intense workout.

Inland Emperor is a tantalizing listen in large measure for the way The Greyboy Allstars play off the various elements of their sound. The chanted vocals on "Better Get A Jump On It" sound like nothing so much as a comment on the playing of the band, here featuring slightly ambient interplay between Walters' electric keyboards and Denson's sax. Perpetuating the distinction between west and east coast jazz, The Greyboys take an ever so slightly more laid-back approach to a style their Boston- based brethren Lettuce have likewise mastered. Yet it's not so much a question of who's better who's best, but simply distinction of approach, the fine line between which is positively blurred with the likes of this title song: the Eric Krasno/Neal Evans/Adam Deitch axis would be as proud to parlay this rapid-fire rhythm as surely as these Allstars relish it.

Leave it to the California axis, however, to engage in the atmospheric likes of "Diminishing Blackness" though: glimmering electric piano weaves in and out of guitar sparks as organ lines bubble up through the porous saxophone, providing the listener an ample chance to contemplate the pleasure of what's played the previous forty minutes plus. And the concluding garage rockin' "Trashtruck" is an almost irresistible invitation to start listening all over again.

Track Listing: Profundo Grasso; Bitch Inside Me; Multiplier; Old Crow; Bomb Pop; Better Get A Jump On It; Breaking Blood; Inland Emperor; Wandering; Diminishing Blackness; Trashtruck.

Personnel: Karl Denson: horns, vocals; Robert Walter: keyboards; Elgin Park: guitars, vocals; Chris Stillwell: bass; Aaron Redfield: drums; John Bigham: vocal (track 2).

Title: Inland Emperor | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Knowledge Room Recordings


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