GREYBOY ALLSTARS – What Happened To Television?

This third studio set from The Greyboy Allstars is a gem.  DJ Greyboy and his collective give you eleven slabs of acid jazz and funk of a timeless quality.  Meshing the late sixties chic of James Brown, with a dash of seventies attitude and the nineties revivalism of Brand New Heavies and Galliano, ‘What Happened To Television?’ is an album that’s near impossible to dislike.

The title cut demonstrates everything that’s great about Greyboy and his all-star crew, hitting a groove which feels like classic late 60s funk, but beneath that, often has a playfulness evoking the quirks of 1970s incidental music from Sesame Street.  While the drum lays a more than pleasing easy shuffle incut with busy fills, and the Grant Green inspired guitar leads carry most of the tune, Robert Walter’s organ contributions shouldn’t be overlooked.  Beneath the more obvious elements, he’s there almost permanently beneath everything laying down some solid foundations with his Hammond. ‘Left Coast Boogaloo’ is equally tight.  A jazzy guitar groove from Elgin Park paves the way for some excellent interplay between Walter and Karl Denson on sax.  It’s a little softer all round than ‘Whatever Happened To TV?’, though still far too busy to ever be lumped in with any lounge jazz, despite the fluid smoothness of the brass elements.  The over-riding feel is that of a fantastic acid jazz band.  The guitars lean towards more muted chords and wah-wah pedals, but the brass and organ more than fill the arrangement, never faltering.  That’s not to say the piece doesn’t give Park much to do – his featured solo is just as superb as his playing had been on the title cut.

‘Still Waiting’ really hits the mark, and with its use of Marva Whitney/James Brown styled beats, it’s a number which refuses to let the listener go from the outset.  Here, with tight rhythms, courtesy of drummer Zak Najor and bassist Chris Stillwell – coupled with more excellent Hammond B-3 work – that The Allstars really hit their stride.  The addition of a vocal gives The Allstars an extra dimension, but it’s not essential; this hard-edged tune could have provided as many thrills as an instrumental workout.  Better still is the fantastically busy ‘Old School Cylons’ which marries hard beats and a little DJ scratching with classic sounding acid jazz flutes and funk drumming to create something which could have been lifted from Jamiroquai’s ‘Return of The Space Cowboy’ release.  If you’re into either the more jam-oriented side of acid jams or have a passing fancy for those Beastie Boys funk instrumentals, chances are you’ll love this.  Topped off with a busy flute solo, it’s one of the album’s real winners.

For harder old-school funk, ‘Knowledge Room’ has fewer smooth edges.  Its hard drumming brings some very off kilter rhythms against which Walter channels jazz organ greats of the sixties.  Once again, Denson’s flutes take a somewhat dominant role, managing to blend their soft, effortless patterns against drumming which can, at times, be pretty intrusive.  These hard edges – at times bording on a jazz rock freakout – naturally work better once the sax steps into the spotlight.  The brass wanders a fine line between improvisation and pre-planned playing, lending an atmosphere reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s 1967 jazz-fusion masterpiece ‘Fat Albert Rotunda’.    Similarly in the old-school, the bones of ‘V Neck Sweater’ showcase a love for James Brown, featuring a sassy organ line, some very rhythmic guitars and a rousing voice which calls to the crowd.  Throw in some parpy baritone saxes – and a rather parpier solo – and you have a track that’s lots of fun and always expertly delivered, even if it doesn’t always equal the Allstars at their compositional best.

Although throughout most of this disc Elgin Park’s guitar work moves between Grant Green-esque softness and just plain understated, for ‘Back In The Game’ he gets a little more time in the spotlight and turns in a very commendable guitar solo, slightly more angular than his playing elsewhere.  Despite this, it’s both Walter and Denson which appear to drive the piece, exchanging riffs which are simple, but totally right for the mood.  Across five minutes, this track rarely breaks from its initial groove, but the organ flourishes and occasional flute loops maintain listener interest with such ease.  While there’s a huge array of talent on show within Greyboy’s chosen Allstars, in many ways both Walter and Denson are the real stars of this album.

Midway through the disc, the band launch into a cover of jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson’s ‘How Glad I Am’ featuring three-part harmony vocals supplied by Eleni Mandell, Inara George [of The Bird and The Bee] and Becky George [of Lavender Diamond].  The older style jazz doesn’t appear to blend in with the other chosen tunes on first listening, but subsequent spins prove this to have plenty of charm.  The harmonies aren’t always as smooth as they could have been, largely due to Mandell having such a distinctive tone – one which doesn’t blend well with others – but despite this, it’s still fun.  Musically, the band appears more than up to the task, with Zak Najor’s drums taking the lead.

Released almost a decade after ‘A Town Called Earth’, this really raises the bar in comparison to the Allstars’ previous couple of outings and marks a more than welcome return.  With nothing which could be remotely considered filler material, fans of funk – particularly those keen on stuff with acid jazz leanings – will find this an indispensible disc.

January 2010/December 2011

DAG – Righteous


It was the summer of 1994. It feels like yesterday, yet it feels like so long ago. One of my best friends had just opened a record store. I met new people, some of whom I still think about now, some of whom have been forgotten. It was there I met my girlfriend (I don’t remember that though; and she wouldn’t become my girlfriend until over a decade later). And it was there, I first heard this monster album by Dag. It became an in-store favourite for a long time.
So, why is that relevant? It’s relevant since this is one of those albums which always makes me think back to the first time I heard it…

Looking like Pearl Jam, replete with plaid shirts, Dag found themselves signed to Sony at the tail-end of the alternative rock boom. At that record store, we thought we knew what to expect as we put the disc in the player. We were very wrong. Instead of retro riffing, we got funk. Lots of funk.

Although featuring a few harder edges than than the 70s funk played by black musicians for largely purist funk audiences, the Parliament-Funkadelic influences are still very much there on this album – and not too sugary. In that respect, Dag went against the then current mainstream and opted for retro of another kind…and they were heroes for doing it – at least in that record store. As far as I know though, the album buying public remained apathetic.

Two of the album’s highest points, ‘Sweet Little Lass’ and ‘Your Mother’s Eyes’, feature a swagger and grubbiness on loan from Prince and George Clinton. Throughout the album, bassist/vocalist Bobby Pattison performs like a hero, but his brilliance is particularly evident during these two songs: his vocals are soulful; his bass playing has a solid groove and strong presence. ‘Sweet Little Lass’ is driven by a slightly distorted, dirty rhythm. Its grinding heaviness is instantly captivating and should appeal to listeners who enjoy the pre-disco vibes of Parliament and Funkadelic. ‘Your Mother’s Eyes’ is a little lighter, although still heavy on the funk. Pattison’s vocals are lighter too and the end result provides a decent snapshot of Dag’s best traits – even with a keyboard making odd squonking noises throughout.

There are moments when I’ve been reminded of Maggie’s Dream (another favourite which somehow fell through the cracks), especially on tracks like the wah-wah drenched ‘Home’ where the funk is still very much at the fore, but rather more subdued than the Clinton-isms displayed elsewhere. ‘Lovely Jane’ is closest in spirit to Jamiroquai (who, of course, were million sellers in the UK with their Stevie Wonder obsessed acid-jazz-funk grooves), but even Jamiroquai, in turn, would have been at odds with the then-current musical scene. Dag employ more guitar work in the overall mix than you’re likely to find on an early Jamiroquai or early Brand New Heavies disc. In fact, the track features a blistering guitar solo, which is surely another aspect culled from Parliament and ‘Maggot Brain’ era Funkadelic…after all, they were never shy of using a guitar to add some serious chops where necessary.

The title track has a wah-wah cop show style guitar played against parping horns (making their first obvious appearance) and it’s hard to hear it without imagining seventies blaxploitation movies about coke-fuelled law-enforcers with huge facial hair. The funkiest thing on the album (and possibly one of the funkiest things ever recorded) is ‘Plow’, which revisits a dirty bass and solid groove – but the real star is Doug Jervey, whose clavinet work really carries the song and gives an obvious nod of approval to Stevie Wonder. Fantastic stuff. ‘As’ features a James Brown horn sound and a groove he might have enjoyed during his Popcorn years, although far looser and not carrying the intensity he may have managed. Throw in an edgy horn solo and you’ve got Dag at their most sassy. Play this before or after ‘Plow’, then repeat as often as is necessary for best results.

The album only carries one dud and even then it’s only the high standard of the other stuff which makes it so. ‘You Can Lick It (If You Try)’ is more Prince meets Morris Day than anything. Although solid, if there’s a contender for “most likely to get skipped track”, this is the one. The music is straight out of one of Prince’s “romantic scenarios”, and although the lyrics aren’t anywhere near as suggestive as his one-time dirty mind (pun intended) could muster without trying, it’s the high vocals which make this one a little grating if you’re not fully prepared.

In short, though, you need ‘Righteous’ as it’s, uh, righteous. It should be cheap somewhere by the time you’ve finished reading this.

September 2007/July 2010