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A new formula for sound

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WHO: Robert Walter?s 20 th Congress

WHERE: The Boot

WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 2

It?s always interesting to find musicians in my age bracket who came through the ?80s unscathed by the pop-rock hair bands. As an impressionable teen of that decade, I still find myself inexplicably drawn to the odd ?80s night for a quick fix of Duran Duran and Cyndi Lauper.

But 30-year-old Robert Walter leads a career far from the wails of mainstream voices. From his classical piano training to his present jazz/funk quartet, Robert Walter?s 20 th Congress, Walter is a musician not quite of his own era.

"My step dad was a drummer while I was growing up. He played mainly in country bands but he had a fascination with blues and older American music, so I got turned on to a lot of that stuff from him," explains Walter. "He also had stuff like James Brown and Herbie Hancock mixed in and that?s the type of music I became attracted to. That music just seemed to make sense to me."

That?s not to say that Walter was exempt from mainstream music. Initially, he followed his step dad?s lead and played drums in hard rock bands, even venturing into a punk band with a jazz twist. And although that genre of music isn?t obvious in his present style, the punk attitude is.

"I try to keep the intensity up. That music was very confrontational, it wasn?t polite. Although I don?t want to cause problems with the audience, I like to engage them. If you make a big enough statement, you make people listen to you."

The hip hop of the ?80s also held particular appeal for the young musician who was drawn to the loops and samples that became so popular that decade. However, Walter was even more interested in where those samples came from, spending hours searching for their origins.

"I?d listen to a sample of one bar of music and then I?d find it on a record somewhere and end up enjoying the whole album. That really got me into some older music as well."

Although he enjoys some of today?s electronic music, Walter still prefers the jazz and funk records of the ?60s and ?70s. That meshing of old and new is clear on his latest CD with the 20 th Congress, at times producing a sound that could be described as Austin Powers stepping on to a 2001 dance floor.

He has returned to his first instrument, the keyboards, but has turned it up a notch by twisting innovative sounds out of his Hammond B3 organ. His talents drew excessive attention while he was part of the now defunct Greyboy All-Stars. But now, all four members of the 20 th Congress ? rounded out by Cochemea Castelum on alto sax, electric sax and flute, Chris Stillwell on bass, and George Sluppick on drums ? are drawing critical praise as they put their own spin on the traditional definition of "band." The 20 th Congress proves you don?t need a guitarist or a vocalist to shake and move.

"I put the keyboards and saxophone through a lot of distortion and guitar peddles. We wanted to be different," Walter says. "Every band out there has a guitarist. We didn?t want to use the same formula as everyone before us."

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