Who: Robert Walters 20 th Congress
Where: The Boot Pub
When: Sunday & Monday, Feb. 2 & 3
Rummaging through mom and dads record collection as a kid ended, for most of us, in a stack of scratches and a potential grounding. But for Robert Walter, it spawned a career committed to keeping jazz and funk alive.
The San Diego-based thirty-something Walter is the chief of the travelling caravan of jazzy funk culture, the 20 th Congress a reference to Russia's political body during the Stalin era which exposed the dictator as a murderous tyrant. Despite the names political and bloody leanings, the Congress music is quite the opposite. Its all about the good times, danceable and an instrumental showcase of talented musicians from the past and present.
Walter spent his youth listening to the usual SoCal punk offerings of the time, like the Dead Kennedys, but found himself drawn to the old jazz and blues vinyls that his parents kept putting under the needle.
"It was never about the radio really for me," said Walter. "My step-father was a musician and big into collecting older records so I would listen to them instead. I grew up on boogie woogie, New Orleans records by the Meters and James Brown and it started from there really."
"It" is hard to define. Walter is a piano player, sure. A Hammond B-3 organ player, amazingly so. Hes also a collaborative contributor who brings out the best in the bassist, the brassist and the bongo player. Everyone whos anyone in the industry seems to want to grab their chosen instrument and jam with Walters fingers on the Fender Rhodes.
This reputation is one the humble Walter said was not always the case.
"At first I had a lot of trouble getting respect from the legitimate jazz people, but now everybodys starting to warm up to it," he said.
Warming up? Id say bubbling up to boiling levels. Walter now has the luxury of hand-picking people to play with.
"I choose musicians I really admire," said Walter. "When preparing for this tour, I asked myself if I could play with anyone, who would it be? And the answer is who Ive got."
The band features Cochemea Gastelum on alto sax and flute, who uses vintage effects and other psychedelia to create his unique sound. On bass is Chris Stillwell, a Greyboy Allstars alumni. On guitar is Will Bernard, who has played with greats like TJ Kirk and Charlie Hunter. And on drums is New Yorker, Joe Russo.
"I saw Joe for years in a band called Fat Mama in Colorado and Id be like that band has the best drummer ever, who is he? He blows everybody away," cooed Walter.
This pianist who keeps a low profile is perhaps better known as one of the founding members of the now defunct Greyboy Allstars, the cheeky soul-jazz quintet who spent the early 90s selling out shows across North America and Europe. The five-year experience had Walter rubbing musical shoulders with such jazz and funk heavyweights as Fred Wesley, Melvin Sparks, Andy Bey and Reuben Wilson. Walter knew he had discovered his destiny.
In 1998, it was time to try something new and so began his next endeavour, forming the 20 th Congress. He has released two albums under the groups name, Money Shot and There Goes the Neighbourhood, with a third album in the works as we speak. The Neighbourhood LP is touted as a tribute to the great soul-jazz records of the 60s.
"Thats the stuff that really got me interested in the first place, the records by the likes of Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Smith. Id been playing music that was influenced by these people for years but when I actually had the opportunity to play with some of these greats I wanted to put them in a modern context and bring out the strength of their playing in that style that set them apart."
Robert Walters 20 th Congress promise a different set list every night, incorpoating originals from the two records, some Greyboy Allstars favourites and a slew of covers, from the old jazz standards to the modern era. Tickets are $15 from the Boot. Call: 604-932-3338.
As an exclusive added bonus, the String Cheese Incident's new film, Waiting for the Snow to Fall, will be screened before the Congress show, at 9 p.m. sharp. Get an up-close look at the band and their fans as they take you back to where it all began in the Colorado Rockies.