ROBERT WALTER'S 20TH CONGRESS | 10.14 | FORT COLLINS

Sunday night on the Front Range proved to be a nice change of pace from the usual watching of “The Simpsons” when Robert Walter and his cavalcade of funk came into the Fort. Robert Walter has been impressing everyone in sight with a blend of jazz and funk grooves that seem to flow out of his hands and into the air. This was to be my 11th time seeing this modern master of the Hammond and his band of funk politicians, the 20th Congress. After seeing an amazing performances last summer at the Subterranean in Chicago with Skerik, Stanton Moore, and Fareed Haque, every subsequent performance seems to showcase his looseness on stage. This had been apparent in Walters' playing throughout his days with the Greyboy Allstars. Now on his own, Robert has stepped it up by getting his own unique style of playing to flow around the musicians he now calls his family. My favorite player in his new cause is sax player Cochema Gastellum, who is a perfect fit for Robert. This band, to me, is a good step up from most bands on the jam scene. They have the fresh talent of a young Miles Davis band, and the willingness to push music just as Miles did. They constantly change with the motion and attitude of their crowd, and when they see that the room is on fire, they don’t turn it down, but instead rage onward. This beautiful night in Fort Collins was to be like no other.

At the beginning of the summer, I had the chance to sit down with Robert and kind of do what was to be a “practice” interview in the loosest sense. In that conversation, he assembled a brief list of his musical influences for me, including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Fela Kuti, along with other jazz greats. For being such a great musician, I had to appreciate his candor and patience with a young and very foolish writer such as myself. He was very cool and laid back, even giving me pointers, which, for anyone trying to do anything of this nature on the scene, can be very helpful. He also imparted some interesting ideas about his notion of music, which was very diverse, covering artists from the Grateful Dead to Eddie Harris to John Patton. His love for music was much like my own, and I love to see an artist go onstage with that type of open attitude. This night would prove to be a great night of grooves, covers, originals, and new tunes that made all of the Starlight get up and shake, on what would have been another lazy Sunday night.

The night was broken into two sets, each possessing massive amounts of musical excitement. The first song of the evening, a cover of the Eddie Harris track, “Cold Duck Time,” tore the house down and made everyone groove, with Robert and Cheme taking this jazz funk masterpiece to the extreme. This was a longer version of the song than usual, with Robert and Cheme playing off each other such as Eddie and Les McCann must have done back in the day. The next song was an adventure into a previous time in his playing. It was “Freshman 10,” which is the second tune off Robert’s solo album Health and Fitness, and second again on Greyboy Live. I swear, every time I hear this one live it gets better and better. Robert has something with this happy funk anthem, and Cheme and crew prove every step of the way why Robert chose them as his band. This song was great, and it proved once again why man invented horns and the Hammond for our musical delights. The next tune was one of his own called “White Truss,” which was very good and seemed to have the crowd moving every step of the way while Chuck banged on all types of percussion, making everyone want to stamp their feet and shout. The rest of the order is a mystery to me, for I did not bring a pen or paper into the show because I was not prepared to write a review. The highlights included a great version of “The Yodel,” another tune off Money Shot, (Robert’s last solo album), which got everyone in the house up with Robert and Cheme trading licks. Cheme was on the flute, playing over the simplistic beat provided by the rest of the band. The set also included a couple of great covers, the first being from the legendary Dr. John, “Everybody Wanna Get Rich Rite Away,” which, to this day, still blows my mind. Robert plays a lot like Dr. John with his ever-evolving ways on the ivories, and making every note come alive. Most keyboard players stick to one sound, but Robert incorporates everything a key player can, and brings all of that to his audience. His version of this New Orleans classic is a version like no other. He crushed the Hammond while Chris Stillwell and Chuck followed his moves beautifully. It is sometimes nice to see a band without a guitar because it gives us a chance to hear the other musicians and what they have to offer. I figured the last tune of the set would be another Robert original, but like his playing style, he threw me for a curve once again. It was a cover of the Miles Davis giant “What I’d Say” off my personal favorite live Miles compilation, Live Evil. First, let me say that anyone who covers Miles knows the risks involved. Robert played a flawless version of the song with Cheme playing electric sax with that beautiful aura of Miles in the air, smiling from above. Robert had a harder time trying to compete with what three keyboardists had layered together in the original recording. He put forth a mighty effort, however, and seemed to stop the crowd until he left for setbreak. This I love because that is the reaction you want to have after covering a legendary Miles composition.

The second set was, once again, a mix of old and new, but a lot of the latter. This set contained what seemed to be 4-5 new songs, which have not been released. The band again seemed to play through these new songs with ease and pleasure. They all contained that jazzy funk element that the Congress brings to the stage with every performance. The experience should not be about the solo, but about the experience as a whole, which this band does flawlessly. That togetherness was the one characteristic of the Greyboy Allstars that never seemed to pan out. Karl Denson seemed to solo quite a bit, and leave the rest of his very talented crew behind him to watch. Robert, on the other hand, lets his band play around each other and flow off each other, which is the best thing for a live band to do. He seemed to just look around and say, now its time for all of us to shine, including the crowd. Highlights that I can name from the second set included a smoking version of the always fun “Quantico, VA”, another Greyboy classic which Karl D wrote. This song, which he almost always performs beautifully, was exceptional on this night, and it seemed that if you closed your eyes, Cheme transformed into Karl D. But like everything with Robert Walter, he added his own flare to this song, and added a fiery solo in the middle for Cheme that bore no resemblance to Karl Denson. Cheme adds to Robert’s sound that extra soul that every good key player needs to feed off of. He is my favorite part of the lineup, as is almost any horn player in my jazz-laden mind. The others were great versions of “Boogaloo Boogie” and the Lou Donaldson great, “One Cylinder”. Both of these jazz giants were superb, proving that Robert can go from funk hot to Miles cool at anytime in his show, which most musicians can’t come close to doing. This restores my faith in the future of jazz when I hear bands of this nature. The encore brought out my love of old fashioned classic rock with a cover of Jethro Tull's, “Cross-eyed Mary.” This song was smoking, with Cheme ripping solos on his flute that would have even made hard- rocker Ian Anderson sit back and say "hey". This song, though an unusual cover for a band without vocals, was awesome, and the first Tull cover I had ever seen a jam band try to pull off. A + Robert, and thanks again for a wonderful experience in a very small and hot club in the middle of nowhere on a lazy Sunday night in Colorado!

For those of you who have not experienced Robert Walter and the 20th Congress, please go, you won't regret it. For anyone who likes jazz, funk, and just a good overall performer who pushes music to the edge, then go. The music will set you free like it should and put the simple idea of happiness in your mind when the rest of society appears insane. With all the war and terrorism now, I thank everyone on the scene and urge everyone to keep on playing for us. Thanks again for reading, and see y’all on the flipside.

Dallas Kuykendall
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 10/23/01]

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