Photo by Kelsey Winterkorn
The Greyboy Allstars are back together and moving forward. Last year Karl Denson focused on his Tiny Universe and the new Brother’s Keeper release, while Robert Walter toured with his 20th Congress. Both bands are extensions of The Greyboy Allstars but lack the history and notoriety of the original group.
Opening the show was So.Cal’s Afro-Funk nine-piece band, Orgone. Whether it was the interplay between the percussionists and the drummer, the tasteful three piece horn-section, or the over-the-top pipes of show-stealing vocalist Fanny Franklin, Orgone held its own with a soulful funk. A perfect band to open for veterans such as The Greyboy Allstars.
Greyboy then came out to a full crowd and delivered a well-paced show. Some of the night focused on new material, which has room to grow, while the old numbers sounded precise in comparison. Denson stood center stage in the unspoken role as the band leader, keeping the crowd dancing with that herky-jerky soul-filled funk that Greyboy is known for, on such favorites as “Tenor Man”and “Get A Job.” Denson played alto sax as well as electronic soprano and the flute, at times pulling the band to the outer regions of jazz’s definitions. Still it was the intensity and clarity of his vocals that really distinguished him on this night.
Walter again showed that he is a gifted organ and keyboard player. Throughout the entire evening he was Denson’s right hand man and more, as their ability to communicate while on stage is uncanny. Walter laid down some of the most soulful groves on the organ while guitarist Elgin Park noodled delicately over the sound storm of rhythm before him.
The rhythm section comprised of Chris Stillwell on bass and Aaron Redfield on drums was the foundation upon which this show was performed. Stillwell is a Greyboy mainstay and on stage was so unassuming, with an introverted demeanor, he personifies the polar opposite of the funked out grooves that powered out from his bass. Aaron Redfield really gets the MVP for the evening. He came out fully charged and played his drum kit with an intensity and fervor matched by no other on stage. When the songs would jam out into the ether, that place where soulful funk ends and noise begins, Redfield brought the sound back to the center. This occurred on multiple occasions, particularly during the second set, which was intense and loud but at times repetitive and somewhat spacey.
For a band that has spent so much time playing together, it was understandably on the newer songs where it felt that there is work to be done. It was clear at times that they were still getting acquainted not with each other but with the material at hand. Out of this struggle came some of the best solos of the night and some of the most tedious and dull funk I’ve ever heard from Greyboy. True to form, however, this soul funk combo persevered throughout a long and mostly positive show. The end, another high point was the encore “Happy Friends.” The song comes in layers and leaves like a whirlwind, aptly summing up the night.