Robert Walter's 20th Congress / Robert Walter

Get Thy Bearings

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One of the unintended benefits that jazz-funk keyboard great Robert Walter received when moving back to California after a sojourn in New Orleans, was jumpstarting his 20th Congress, which had been dormant for a decade. Get Thy Bearings showcases this quintet in a series of seven originals and two covers. The title track, written by Donovan, is completely revisioned. Its spacey guitars lay down a foundation for Cochema Gastelum's alto saxophone, which blasts the lyric in the first verse with Walter's B-3 taking the second. In the codas and bridge are swelling, dramatic arcs of that border on prog with their complex rhythms and harmonies. "Hunk" (featuring guest Karl Denson on saxophone), is a hard groover with a Meters-esque rhythm via a tight backbeat by Aaron Redfield, and Elgin Park doubling on guitar and playing fat, dirty-assed bass. "Foxhunting" is even meaner. Gastelum double tracks alto and tenor in popping lines and fills as Park's bassline bumps and throbs under a rim-shot shuffle, while Walter soars over the top, filling every nook and cranny with piano and B-3. This is backbone-slipping jazz- funk at its best. "Dog Party" is more on the R&B tip. It sounds like a response to Quincy Jones' Sanford and Son theme song or Fat Albert's. Walter's piano solo in the middle register boxes the groove and then breaks it open with a gospel-like zeal. Speaking of gospel, check out "Crux." Its nasty bassline could have come from a blaxploitation film soundtrack scored by Johnny Pate. Walter's swirling, knotty B-3 vamps duel with Redfield's popping cymbals and snare, while Gastelum's baritone solo testifies. This jam may reach for the heavens, but it comes from the heart of the gutter. The set closer is a cosmic jazz workout on Jimi Hendrix's "Up from the Skies." Walter directly references the melody line on his organ, accenting its origins in soul. Park's strident bass counters even as it accents; it begins to break things down and carry them outside. The frenetic yet circular rhythm provided by Chuck Prada's congas are the only thing holding the tune to the floor as group improvisation grips the center. While the melody returns briefly, this one moves off the rails and into the gone. Get Thy Bearings reveals that the inherent grittiness and innovative funk laid down by the 20th Street Congress is not only present after all these years, it's braver and hungrier than ever before.

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