Raise your hand if you dug Stanton Moore’s 1998 debut as a bandleader, the gloriously kaleidoscopic Nawlins-funkified All Kooked Out!? Do your ears crave “Tchfunkta” like your taste-buds yearn for muffalatta? Can you air-drum “Stanton Hits the Bottle” with chopsticks, dreaming of the Big Easy? I do, I can, and my hand is firmly raised. That album quickly rocketed to one of the most prominent spots in my desert island disc shortlist.
Most will recognize Moore from his most commercial gig, as Galactic’s sticks man. Some will recall his central role in Garage a Trois (with Charlie Hunter and Skerik) and his drum duties for The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. But, over the past 19 years, Moore has also continued to release solo albums, which, due to the compositional excellence of All Kooked Out!, I consider to be of greater import than his work with these other “side” gigs.
So the pressing question is, how does his newest, Emphasis (On Parenthesis), compare?
Grandly, I’d say. This album glimmers and glows, sputters and stirs. If this music were a mood, it would be movin’.
“(Late Night at the) Maple Leaf” opens the proceedings with a jaunty motif, which each member of the trio then dissects, each with fantastic results, particularly Robert Walter’s boogie-woogie piano break. “(Proper) Gander” follows, building upon a pummelling riff that echoes Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” but offers an inherently more danceable re-write that somehow also sounds political. With a clavinet and toy piano, Walter navigates the sneaky spy-funk of “(Wissions Of) Vu”, a song apparently built from improvisations over a Wu-Tang track. Will Bernard punctuates the proceedings with some mysteriously minimalist guitar-playing. No horns? No problem.
At the midway mark, “Over (Compensatin’)” offers Meters-styled skitter-funk, nastily and gloriously executed. The track sounds as if it should be blaring from old vinyl, scratchy needle drops and all. The low-end leads the way for “(I Have) Super Strength”, an exercise in restraint and atmosphere that also pulls off some psychedelic effects, á la Moore’s 2002 effort, Flyin’ the Koop. “(Smell My) Special Ingredients” is nearly six minutes of shape-shifting spectrum, its overall impact somewhat diluted by its patchwork approach: I would have placed this piece as the summative album closer. Instead, the hyper, three-minute “(Here Come) The Brown Police” rushes the album towards a full-stop.
By now you’ve likely picked up on Moore’s penchant for putting parenthetical phrases into the titles of his compositions. In fact, Moore’s drumming thematically approximates the grammatical use of parenthesis: a sonic slice, slid into a bigger whole, which also stands out on its own. Speaking of punctuation, Emphasis (On Parenthesis) is an exclamation point in an already stellar catalog.