It was a snowy Wednesday in Colorado. The icy roads made driving a little more interesting and kept most people indoors. But if anybody was foolish enough to skip coming out to this show, they just didn't know any better. After all, this was a reunion of Allstars.

Greyboy Allstars | 02.04.04 | Colorado
I never did have the chance to see the Greyboy Allstars during their prodigious years of the mid-90s. I had all three of their albums, including their highly recommended Live. But I just never found myself in the same city as their tour. So when the GBA parted ways at the end of the century, I felt that I had somehow missed my chance.

From that point I made every effort to catch the solo Allstars during their respective tours. Thankfully, Robert Walter's 20th Congress and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, whom have each become major driving forces in today's jam scene, have made frequent visits to Colorado and I've been able to get my fix of the finest live groove jazz available. In recent months, a handful of Greyboy Allstars reunion shows starting popping up in California and in Colorado (at the Aspen Jazz Festival), offering a glimmer of hope that a tour was forthcoming. I damn sure wasn't going to let a little road ice get between me and the reincarnated Allstars this time around.

Greyboy Allstars | 02.04.04 | Colorado
For those who don't live in the Denver/Boulder area, you'll just have to trust me that seeing music at the Fox Theatre is special. It's an intimate setting with tiered viewing areas that have great sight lines set around an ample dance floor. The venue lets fans get within arm's length of their favorite performers. You can dance your butt off and feed that energy right to the band.

With no openers, the band started around 10 p.m. and played two longs sets. The set list included some refreshing new songs. The new material indicates that this tour isn't just for old times' sake and may foretell future collaborations. A quick review of their discography reminds me that each member of the band has contributed significantly to their repertoire. Clearly, the fountain of creativity isn't shallow with these guys.

Karl D & Elgin Park | 02.04.04 | Colorado
The first set opened with a few newer songs--"Jungle Strut" and "New Game." Older songs like "Planet of the Superkids" and "December Bicycle" gave a nice sense of variety to the song tempos, as these compositions deliver softer, loungy interludes in between the funk. For most of the set, the band played cohesively without delving into extended solos. But at the end of the first set, songs like "Jack Rabbit" and "Fried Grease" really lit up the room. I sensed the band was hitting their stride and were starting to expand their songs with a little more improvisation. I noted that Robert Walter was taking a little more time with his keyboard solos and his facial contortions were a dead giveaway that he was, in Buddy Guy's words, "smelling the funk." His keyboards tonight demonstrated his virtuosity in taking it back to the chicken shack.

Greyboy Allstars | 02.04.04 | Colorado
The second set was filled with more tasty songs; some familiar ("Check Out Your Mind," "Get a Job") and some new ("Son of Ice Bag," "Right On") that kept the tempo pendulum swinging between moods all the way through the encore of my favorite GBA composition, "Happy Friends." A set list that considers good pacing (both in tone and rhythm) can keep an audience engaged more fully. Both sets tonight were right on the money as each song built nicely on the last, never losing momentum.

Karl Denson takes the front man spot for the band, much like he does for his Tiny Universe. His vocals, interspersed throughout the set, give those songs a little extra emotion for the audience to feed from. When he isn't playing his alto or tenor saxes or flute, he's finding various percussive bells and tubes to beat along to the groove. This band gets the groove started and doesn't let it quit.

Elgin Park | 02.04.04 | Colorado
Elgin Park (aka Mike Andrews) on guitar often reminded me of a kid after eating a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles--amped up, jumping around with his mind racing. Luckily, his hands kept up as he ripped through solos and funky bridges at pace with Denson's melodies. At the close of the second set, Elgin admitted that the chaotic funk binge he just played wasn't quite what he wanted but "it was still funky."

Chris Stillwell, who has played extensively in the 20th Congress, doesn't get flashy but his bass playing is brilliant. The other half of the rhythm section, Zak Najor, has played drums with both the Congress and Universe. He received a fair amount of spotlight and he demonstrated tremendous jazz/funk drumming. During one of Zak's solos, I caught Karl looking over at Robert and saying, "Wow." Perhaps that's what's special about this reunion. These players had spent a lot of time together, then split to follow other interests, sometimes crossing paths for five years, each getting to play with other musicians. Now, they're rediscovering the chemistry they had and realizing how special it is. Hopefully that realization sparks future tours and recording.

Words by: Haig Assadourian
Images by: Tony Stack
JamBase | Boulder
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[Published on: 2/9/04]

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