Robert Walter cuts jazz's apron strings
Who: Robert Walter's 20 th Congress
What: Halloween Ball
Where: The Boot Pub
When: Friday, Oct. 31, 8 p.m.
Tickets : $20
With smooth keyboard grooves backed by funky beats bandleader/Hammond player Robert Walter has built his reputation on nostalgia for the soul-jazz heyday of the late '60s and early '70s. But with his recent release Giving Up the Ghost , the fourth album in five years with the instrumental collective that makes up the 20 th Congress, he's trying to leave the past behind.
There's been a new member elected to the Congress: the Studio. This shouldn't imply the album is an over-produced mishmash of pop star excess and weak musicianship. Walter's assembled players are as solid as ever. But in an attempt to break away from the jazz-standard recording process of documenting a live performance in a vacuum-like environment, Walter says he attempted to use independent studio production on a more colloquial level, even recording various sections of Ghost using his computer.
"I'd take it to my drummer's house and let him play in his living room where he felt really comfortable, and we'd just screw around," says Walter. "We had unlimited time to do stuff like that. So it loosened up the recording process in a way."
Loosening up the jazz establishment is something that Walter feels has always defined his music. In the past, his boldness in classifying his work as jazz earned him furrowed brows from purists, but he's simply calling a spade a spade. The more enigmatic Acid Jazz title belongs to horn riffs over hip-hop breaks says Walter. And while jam band fans appreciate his funky, danceable grooves and improv sessions, it's obvious the Congress isn't the heir to the Grateful Dead either.
"The bad thing about the way jazz is perceived is that it's so obsessed with tradition and nothing stepping out of what the established rules are, that it becomes very sterile in a way. I think a lot of jazz is like history preservation," says Walter.
"I was always fascinated with the late '60s, early '70s, the beginnings of fusion and combining soul music with jazz. It was really looked down upon by the jazz establishment, and in context I'm still fascinated with that. Blurring the barriers between genres."
The new barrier to be blurred is the one between jazz and electronica.
"I'd say I'm stretching the possibilities of what I can do," says Walter, affirming the new album is a departure. "I'm starting to feel like in order to be relevant and to feel that I'm really expressing myself I need to reveal that I'm influenced by other kinds of music too. I can't pretend I've never heard a record newer than 1973."
He's extended the focus to the band as well. Well known for past collaborations with old masters and jazz greats, he says he's decided to rely more on the musicians close to his own age (33) this time around. While he has nothing but respect for those that paved the way, now's the time to do his own thing.
"There's one stage of your life you spend learning how to play, and admiring other people, learning from your elders," Walter muses. "Then at some point you need to start creating your own music. Add to the tradition. Move forward. And that's sort of where I'm at.
"To what degree I've been successful with that, I don't know yet. I'm just in the middle of doing it. So hopefully as time goes on, people will look back at my music and I'll have made some contributions to the continuum of American music. But it's too soon to call it. I don't feel like I've done all I can do yet."
See what Walter and his talented lot can do at the Boot Pub's Halloween Ball next Friday, Oct. 31. Congress guitarist Will Bernard headlines the opening set. The show is a production of Vancouver-based Upstream Entertainment, who will be rewarding the evening's best Halloween costume with guest list privileges to any Upstream show, in any venue, for the next calendar year.
Tickets $20, through TicketMaster, or the Boot Pub. Call 604-932-3338 for more information.
Sidebar: From the Crates
A lot of DJs in this town would give up their firstborn for the chance to rifle through Robert Walter's record collection. The following are what Walter says have seen time on his turntable recently.
"Classic hip-hop stuff" specifically boogie down productions, Eric B. & Rakim and Slick Rick.
"Jimmy Smith is always on there, just because of the organ thing."
John Coltrane piano player McCoy Tyner's Tender Moments record on Bluenote.
Michael Jackson - Off the Wall
Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky - "I'm going through a little classical phase."