Another boring Sunday night was to be transformed in the Fort with the arrival of Robert Walter and his band of funk pioneers. After a good dinner and the Simpson’s, we started our evening in grand style with a bottle of rum and a last listen to There Goes the Neighborhood. The Starlight is a very small and stuffy venue with amazing sound and not a bad seat in the house. The venue is less than a mile from our pad, but with the bitter cold of the evening we decided to drive. This was a very special night for me as this was my 20th time seeing Robert and his Congress in various venues. His band has been a very influential force in my love of music and will continue to be for many years to come. This group is one of the few bands that I will go see anywhere on any tour because of their sheer talent and stage presence, not to mention the fact that they are all great guys off stage.
The band consists of Robert Walter on keys, Cocheme Gastelum on sax and flute, Chuck Prada on percussion, George Sluppick on drums, and Chris Stillwell on bass. These five produce one of the best dance beats in music without incorporating any electronic sounds. Their pure ability and flare for producing such consistently beautiful jazz, funk, and groove has made me come back throughout the years. This night was to be no different as Robert and his band gave me a great 20th show and just another beautiful experience to add to my life’s tale.
With the arrival of the new album, There Goes The Neighborhood, and the end of a four night run I expected the band to pump out some new music. They did just that, and blew me away with every note in the new songs. This band seems to age like wine, the more they experience, the better they are. Each musician flows together with a grace and style some what like an old Herbie Hancock experience. They seem to focus more on playing a tight groove together instead of the emphasis being put on the solo. It seems like a lot of groove bands have forgotten that a groove sounds better when everyone is involved, putting their own creative flow in the song. This band has a good memory, and it's amazing the way that they can play every show with an unselfish message.
As the band got on stage, the faces of everyone in the crowd lit up with a delight that most bands could only hope for. As each musician settled in and got comfortable you could tell that this show was going to be special. The night started with three new songs right off the bat. The first a funk beauty called “Powerhouse,” got everyone on their feet and away from their drinks. Robert, Chuck, and Cheme seemed to be the stars of this song with each flowing off the other while Chris and George held their smooth vibes. The next two songs set the stage for an easy going music vibe with a great dance groove that could make anyone get up on their feet. The two songs entitled “Ain’t Got Nobody” and “Aquafresh” proved that this band is still making great music with each road they go down. The next jam was the first true highlight of the evening, “There Goes the Neighborhood.” This song happened to be in my head all night long before the show, and it was great to hear a stellar version with emphasis on the rhythm section. Chris and George ripped down a smooth back beat where the rest of the band just seemed to flow on top. This was one of my favorite versions of "There Goes The Neighborhood," and I would love to see that same loose style every time they play this beautiful song.
The middle of the set was a highlight of older favorites and great covers. The first that gets a nod was a great version of “White Russ,” off of Money Shot. This is another favorite and they certainly did it justice tonight. The whole band performed a stellar improvisation on this great jazz/funk number. They all seemed to look at each other for the solo and when it came time for the member’s to go, the others seemed to back them up with a smoothness not heard very often. After this came a stellar combo of “Dr. John>Boogaloo Boogie.” These are both great songs in different ways. The first is a tribute to one of the best keyboardists around and Robert gives him an A+ performance. He exemplifies everything that Dr. John had in his music and the smiles he brought to everyone in the venue. The second is a perfect cover for any jazz fan. The great Lou Donaldson wrote this beautiful number and every member hits the notes to a T. This was one of the best versions I have heard and I thank them for playing it for a third straight show, this is one that I could hear every time.
The encore was just more proof that these guys could take any type of music and make it sound incredible. The first was the classic rock standard, “Good Times, Bad Times.” This version, like all the rest was ripping. The band has no guitar player, which makes for a very interesting funk exploration into the depths of Led Zeppelin. Robert and Cheme perform most of the solo’s making it sound as if it was produced by Miles Davis. They perform it with such a depth and flow that any musician would kill to have their recipe for a groove. The last song was a newer funk song, “Soulful,” which I really liked. It seemed to have the perfect tone with that “Thank you so much for coming tonight” message and made me almost scream for a third set.
This band is one of the top three bands in the scene today without a doubt. They produce such a simple and beautiful sound with that deep penetration of the jam without killing it. They are wonderful men and musicians giving their fans top notch entertainment every time. They have taken me so many places in my life and given me so many experiences that there is no doubt that I recommend them whole heartedly. With all the raw funk, jazz, r&b, and any other type of music out there they have such a pure sound in everything they play. With all the electronic gizmos’s today that produce so many sounds that don’t truly exist in music, it is great to see them still producing such a lovely and true sound.
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