Tag Archives: Robert Walter
August 14, 2012
It’s apropos that the Honey Island Swamp Band would return for a summer gig at The Mint following an appearance at Outside Lands the prior weekend. After all, the Bay Area figures so prominently in this NOLA band’s origin story. Stranded by Katrina. Crescent City players a long way from home. Meet up on the west coast. Bond big time. Keep their chops strong. Throw a few songs together. Land a regular gig in the heart of town. Cut their debut in the one and only Record Plant in Sausalito. It could only happen….where?
This is their third trip to The Mint in 14 months. That’s not a bad thing. Whether it’s covering their LA dates, staking their ground from the big stage at the Fest or enjoying their pop up everywhere Fest club dates, I have been a fan since first catching them at Jazzfest in 2008. The Bay Area meets bayou influences are everywhere in the HISB sound. Solid songwriting, tight arrangements and enough room to stretch, their self-coined “bayou americana” is rootsy strings first stuff. Swamp driven, but not dripping, and often sprouting ensemble fed jams from tasty hooks, HISB sets include staples from their first three albums “Honey Island Swamp band (2007), “Wishing Well” (2009) and “Good to You” (2010), and more recently, new material from a pending fourth release.
Guest Robert Walter was on hand to thicken the gumbo a bit. Many an HISB gig add horns up top, so it’s a fresh twist to double down with Walter and Trevor Brooks on keys. Behind the stringed attack of frontmen, Aaron Wilkinson who moves between his Thinline Tele and mandolin, and Chris Mulé’s excellent Strat fed slide work, HISB serves up material reminiscent of Little Feat, Creedence, Black Crowes and many of the band’s NOLA peers, while remaining totally original. Sam Price’s stage energy is only exceeded by the pulsing, bubbling work on his Lakland bass. Garland Paul is a great foil for Price and the rhythm section drives and roots a band that feeds one another with spirited stage IQ in a deceptively comfortable musical setting.
Opening with the country ramble of “Honey” (from “Good to You”), the tune had Trevor Brooks off to the races. “Josephine”, (also from, “Good to You”) is simply a good time song of love on the road with a great hook. Some muscular playing from Price and kick ass exchanges between Chris Mulé and Trevor Brooks drove that point home. Walter’s jazzier inclinations added another layer to the already jammy “Chocolate Cake” (from “Good To You”) and his soul jazz sound on his own “Snakes and Spiders” (from his 2008 release, “Cure All”) and later in the set, “Hard Ware” (from 2005’s “Super Heavy Organ”) and “Quantico, VA”, were an intriguing match for HISB that worked better than expected. “300 Pounds” (from “Good To You”) is a classic tale of weed running that again had Mulé satisfyingly meshing with four hands on the keys. “Slip” from their self-titled debut and “One Shot” (unreleased) were feisty, with the latter beginning with a reggae on the bayou feel and the former featuring some nice wah-wah like effects from Mulé, when the band was not hugging the go to m7/dom 9 change. Throughout the set, Aaron Wilkinson’s mandolin work showed how much that little box can rock, when he wasn’t tangling Fenders with Mulé or working a hot summer day harp in to the mix. His 8-string touch on “One Shot” climbed all around the blues step of the tune.
No song captures the musical strengths of HISB like “Wishing Well” (from the 2008 release of the same name). Swampy riffs, a sing along chorus and deep stretches of purposeful jams. At The Mint, the snaky intro, Mulé’s slide and the ensemble spirit had me deja vuing for long lost brain cells. “Till the Money’s Gone” (from “Wishing Well”) is an all NOLA romp and “Jitterbug Swing” (an old Bukka White tune, also unreleased) is fleet footed front porch bluesgrass. “Cane Sugar” (unreleased) and “Country Girl” (from “Good To You”), with its Van Morrison if he could boogie flavor, closed things out.
Singer/guitarist Clarence Bucaro opened the show with a well received set culled from his five albums, including the just released “Walls of the World”.
HISB is deceiving. The tunes feel like your own backyard throwdown, but go deeper. The funk, blues, bluegrass, jam, country, bayou sound they have cultivated will satisfy jam fans and roots devotees alike. Fest vets know what I’m talking about and the thousands who caught them Saturday at Outside Lands do too. And they just keep getting better.
June 13, 2012
There is no sound quite as satisfying as a Hammond B-3 organ through a Leslie speaker. In the right hands, the B-3 can be pure blues drenched, Sunday church joy, straight up bop, prog rock majesty, soul master and classic rock anchor. While the last B-3 rolled off the line in the mid-70s (says Wiki), the legacy of the sound is completely unmistakable. It has been a signature for the likes of Gregg Allman, Stevie Winwood, Keith Emerson, Booker T. Jones, Stephen Stills, Jimmy Smith, Ray Manzarek, to name but a few. More recently, a newer generation of players, some with deep New Orleans ties, have led B-3 driven ensembles including the likes of Marco Benevento, LA’s own Mike Mangan and Robert Walter, who began a June residency at The Mint last week.
Southern California native and New Orleans resident Walter chose his Mint residency to reconvene the 20th Congress for their first performance in 5 years. The former Greyboy launched the Congress in the late ‘90s and counts Stanton Moore, Will Bernard and Joe Russo among its alumni. This gig featured original Greyboys Walter and Chris Stillwell, bass, with Cochemea Gastelum, sax/flute (Sharon Jones), Chuck Prada, percussion (Snoop Dogg), and Simon Lott, drums (George Porter, Jr.). The 20th Congress moves from straight up horn and keys driven funk and blues, to the more quixotic, while right at home in the soul jazz spectrum. Like Marco Benevento, Walter mixes the B-3 sound with electric keys and occasional effects.
While Walter did not have his B-3 in tow for this gig, his Yamaha nicely emulated the experience through a vintage Leslie. Another rack of keys sat atop the Yamaha and (to my delight) a Fender Rhodes filled out the array. Opening with the chunk of funk “Sweetie Pie”, the 20th jumped right into the fray led by some fine Rhodes work and Gastellum’s alto. The next tune started with an extended Walter solo, then had drummer Simon Lott, hoodie and all, drop into a hard groove and pretty soon it was feeling like 70’s vinyl. No surprise the set list revealed the third tune to be from Walter’s 1997 release “Spirit of 70” (“Corry Snail and Slug Death”, no explanation to that one). Gastellum switched to flute for the next tune “Fathom 5”, from his 2010 solo release “The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow”. The piece started spare, with Gastellum’s flute and Walter’s reverbed Rhodes a snug unit, bassist Stillwell adding a tease of samba undercurrent.
Walter was easy and chatty with the crowd and introduced “Dog Party” with good humor. Disclosure, I love the Fender Rhodes sound almost as much as a B-3, whether it’s early Chick Corea or Royal Scam era Steely Dan. Walter did not disappoint, moving into territory that would make the 1973 Eumir Deodato proud. The set closed with “Who Took the Happiness Out”, a Dirty Dozen Brass Band composition, and a great showcase for the entire 20th .
The second set kicked off with “Movin’ on Out” and as the set progressed, a few guests spelled Simon Lott and Chris Stillwell for a tune each, stepping in pretty seamlessly, given some of the angled time signatures. Walter also dug more into his effects pedal, pushing the Rhodes tone to its edges and back again. The set list revealed songs from 2001’s “There Goes the Neighborhood” (“2% Body Fat”), 2008’s “Cure All” (“Maple Plank”, “Snakes and Spiders”) and 2005’s “Super Heavy Organ” (“Adelita”, “Kicking Up Dust”). Apparently, one of the tunes had something to do with brushing your teeth, but hey, that’s instrumental titling for you.
The 20th Congress is often fast paced. Borderline frenetic, but not overly hyper. Always finding a groove to draw your attention. Along the way, Robert Walter will move from bluesy flourishes to dizzying ascending/descending runs. At least a few times Wednesday my head checked Welcome to the Canteen era Traffic and Caravanserai era Santana while the 20th was rolling. This is not retro stuff, just a continuation of a story and great sounds fully embraced. Me, I never left the time zone, so it works rather well.
Robert Walter continues his residency at The Mint on June 20th (with Reed Mathis and Aaron Redfield) and June 27th (Stanton Moore and Jonathan Freilich).
July 13, 2011
Stanton Moore is everywhere, deal with it. And no drummer jokes, please. Seriously, it seems like Stanton Moore is the Warren Haynes of the skins, playing wherever, whenever he can and not only like he’s having a great time, but also as if his life depended on it. Whether leading his Galactic mates through a snare fed fury that turns the band into the equivalent of a human trap set, sitting in seemingly every night during Jazzfest he’s not gigging with the propulsively manic Garage a Trois, the brass royalty of the Midnite Disturbers, his own trio, or Galactic, this is a man who literally can’t sit down when he plays. He is simply having too much fun to keep still. Last year, Mr. Moore anchored Anders Osborne’s epic American Patchwork recording and tour in 2010 and fortified his collaboration with Hammond wiz Robert Walter. The tribal material and arrangements that grew from this collaboration resulted in one of the best albums of the year. Moore and Walter, along with guitarist Will Bernard, have further shaped their unique funk with the Stanton Moore Trio over the years and for those who love their B3 sound dripping in swamp juice and punchy percussive attacks that serve as smelling salts to the senses, you’ll like what you hear.
The New Orleans percussionist has taken up a month long Wednesday residency at The Mint for July, providing free all ages drum clinics before every show – a thoughtful give back for aspiring and seasoned players alike. Each show rotates in a different guest and I elected to hit the July 13th gig with Karl Denson. Within minutes of the 9:50ish start, the room was full. Not bad for the Wednesday night before Carmeggedon.
Opening with Walter ‘s staccato riffs on “Pie Eyed Manc” from 2010’s aptly titled Groove Alchemy, the set I heard started strong and headed higher. The chemistry between all three players was astonishing. Walter’s bass lines alone pushed and grabbed the trio, and especially Moore, to punch back and dig deep. The sound was vintage, old school and often organ driven (OK, Yamaha on wheels), shifting from a complex soul groove to in your face rapid fire I gotcha soloing. Heck, I half expected to hear the snap, crackle and pop of vinyl between notes. Denson altered his horn’s tone to great effect that only enhanced, not detracted, from some wicked and adventurous playing. By the time they hit “Magnolia Triangle” mid-set (from 2002’s Flying the Koop), the trio was a single swinging, squonking, fiery unit (wouldn’t have been surprised to see wisps of smoke rise from the bell of Denson’s tenor). The set closed with Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s, “Who Took the Happiness” (from 2008’s Take It to the Street), that stripped a larger brass band sound to it’s rawest elements with circular interplay wrapped around Walter’s keyboard bass and jungle-like swing. This was great stuff. Call it funk, call it jazz, call it soul. Don’t matter. As long as you respect the drummer.