This was one of those times where the CD manufacturing industry's approach to deter disc theft from a jewel case by applying super sticky tape across its top edge was rubbing me the wrong way. It says "pull" but that's not what you want to do. You have go through a careful process of lifting the tape horizontally so that you can lift the entire strip off in one piece. With a wait that began in 2000, it was just a bad time to enforce such patience. Robert Walter's 20th Congress's, Giving Up the Ghost beckoned me.
However, after the disc was liberated, my mind followed suit as I sat in my easy chair for about 55 minutes of bliss. Sure I've heard many of these tunes in the Congress's sets over the past several months but Mr. Walter, the album's producer, has painstaking used the recording studio to hone his band's sound to be smooth and heavy at all the right times.
The intro, "Glassy Winged Sharp Shooter" evokes a bit of a techno jungle rhythm alongside Cheme Gastelum's horn and flute melodies to introduce a classic Robert Walter solo that feels like a comfortable shirt. The electronic touches to this and other songs on the album mark it as an evolutionary step for the Congress sound. "Aquafresh," a standard in the Congress live repertoire for quite some time, is dropped like an old-school funk bomb that does what it should, make your jell-o jiggle.
"Convex + Concave" is a more recent composition of electronic ambiance injected with a playful dose of horn and keyboard interplay while a beat loop chugs throughout. A simple tune that is interesting but not spectacular. "Circle Limit" lets Walter make good use of his studio time with a trance jungle beat driven by George Sluppick's drums. Sluppick shares drum duty with Joe Russo on this album but its Sluppick's work that offers noticeably more unique textures. In "Bygones Be," we step into the "way-back machine" to slip into a song whose style could have been lifted from a 1970 film – cool jazz with great breaks from a bygone era.
The dynamic duo of Walter and Gastelum return as the heads of state with a few new and old friends on this album. Greyboy All-Star Chris Stillwell shares bass duties with Mike Fratantuno while Chuck Prada's percussion and Sluppick's drums drive the rhythm section as they did on 2000's Money Shot. New congressmen, Will Bernard, whose refreshing guitar style that has toured with the crew for about a year now rounds up the lineup.
Did I mention this CD is smooth? Not as in muzak, but as in silk. Cheme's flute interludes just seem to float in the ether. Halfway through the album, I was wondering, when Will Bernard get his chance? Fortunately, he takes center stage on the grungy funk of "Dump Truck." It's a song Derek Trucks has blown up live as a guest with the Congress and Bernard doesn't disappoint in his rendition. I must admit that I would have enjoyed more from Bernard throughout the album. His contributions to their live sets have really opened up the band's vocabulary and I was looking forward to more of his explorations on this album.
"Clear All Wires" draws on a more distinctive electronic backgrounds allowing Walter and Gastelum to play simultaneous melodies on their respective instruments. "Bet" changes pace nicely with sultry soul funk that would suit a Sade style ballad.
The theme of spirituality is manifested in several ways on this album. "Underbrush" lopes along in search of the open road ending with a dreamy sequence that fades into "Sacred Secret" and, all of a sudden, you're transported to a Baptist church in the midst of a praise inducing, joyful gospel that gets you clapping along with the crowd. The final and title track, "Giving up the Ghost," a phrase with biblical origins, features Gastelum's yearning horn. More than a few songs on this release build a mood that, while funky, exude peaceful and contemplative emotions. In this sense, the album aspires to give listeners a channel into the collective soul. Righteous.
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