Last night Robert Walter called a Congress Meeting at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado. After the Tin Hat Trio opened up, the 20th Congress convened for two sets of intense jazz, funk and everything in between. Friday night saw the Fox fill up to a comfortable level where the energy was high and the boogying real estate was spacious, enabling all elated heads to get down in full effect. It is nights like these where the Fox really takes the cake in terms of its capacity to throw a raging party; and the congress partied down in an intense jazz-funk fashion.

Master of the keys, Robert Walter, spent the whole night tickling out scales along the incredibly thin line he draws between funk and jazz. Walter's style has impressive equilibrium, in that he has the gift of blending in with all his band mates. Whether he’s rumbling out deep bass laden grooves on the Hammond Organ or hammering out soulful solos on the Fender Rhodes, he is the major interconnecting unit in the Quintet. He has the unique ability to bring out a variety of voices through his fingertips including ones reminiscent of the electric guitar. Someone once said, “Every great band has a great guitarist,” and although a number of acts on the scene today, including the 20th congress, are proving this statement wrong, metaphorically speaking, Walter plays that role.

The Quintet was also heavily drum driven. On drums, George Sluppick held a tightly complex, attentive jazz beat that served as the backbone to the united groove. This was consistently percolated with percussion from his own kit and from the setup of percussionist Chuck Prada. The two fused to compliment each other in ways that made them seem almost telepathic. The best showcase of this union was the drum solo they took during “Its Your Thang,” a raging funk standard. The joint forces of the two drummers resulted in a tight array of beats blending jazz, funk, break-beat, Latino and various other elements into their communal groove.

Chris Stillwell on Bass displayed his ability to hold down a thick bass groove through all types of musical terrain. Formerly a co-member of the Greyboy Allstars with Walter, he tore up the house and a number of original Greyboy tunes with his funky, rock and roll founded, distinctive style. Cochemea Gastelum added another layer to the stack with his lung-laboring playmanship on the Alto and Electric saxophones, and the flute. He took beautiful Sax solos, playing his heart out outside of the band, trading notes with Walter and exhaling gracefully abstract grooves on the flute that just floated around the other musicians’ output.

A good amount of credit is due to the unofficial 6th member of the band: Dirty Bill. Although Dirty Bill, being a garden gnome, is forced to stand, he sat in for two ridiculous sets and jazz-funk fusion. While Dirty Bill is immobile and did not participate musically, his presence was animated and beyond inspirational. From his vantage point atop the amplifier behind Stillwell, he powerfully orchestrated jams of all types. I felt Dirty Bill’s contribution the most as the Congress raged a powerful rendition of AC/DC’s "Back in Black."

Robert Walter's 20th Congress joins together the musical voices of its five well-seasoned members to produce a unique sound that experimented with numerous musical genres. The product is a musical journey that holds the crowds’ energy and attention as the congress navigates through uncharted landscapes of funk, jazz, rock and roll, Latino and ambient electronica, all served with a soulful overhaul. They are clearly itching to be jazz while at the same time itching to be funk, leaving you with a pleasurable tingle that drives you to dance. The Congress is touring extensively this fall, making their way across the Midwest then penetrating the Northeast before heading down South. While you may not be able to see them under the eye of Dirty Bill, you can catch them with Charlie Hunter and a number of other great acts like Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Maceo Parker, Umphrey's McGee and Topaz. If they happen to swing by your town and you can swing it, check out the Congress in their element.

Ian Koudstaal
JamBase | Boulder, CO
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[Published on: 10/14/01]

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