Robert Walter’s 20th Congress: Get Thy Bearings

[23 June 2013]

By Neil Kelly

Robert Walter knows how to funk things up with absolute precision and unparalleled fervor. He’s been at it for the better part of three decades, contributing massive organ comps, smooth electric piano and pocketed flourishes to the Greyboy All-Stars and his own 20th Congress (among many other contributions), delighting jazz fans and funketeers who prefer their solos over a loosely rigid bed of polyrhythms a la James Brown and Sly Stone. While that might sound dated and recycled, it’s as fresh as funk has ever been, thanks to the prowess of his sidemen and the inherent fun they had making Get Thy Bearings. If you’ve ever wondered what fun(k) sounds like, here it is.

Walter’s distinctive groove has jazzed up many projects over the years, and he’s had the honor of working with the cream of the jazz/funk crop like Fred Wesley and Reuben Wilson. Besides his impressive resume, you can hear the dedication to the genre and the studious care Walter takes not to get in the way of the song—something many musicians should learn before committing their sounds to public scrutiny. Seeing Walter live, no matter who he’s playing with, is a spectacle worth the price of admission, especially if one has the yearning to play funk. There’s no doubt his licks are indirectly teaching those acolytes of the groove jungle, andGet Thy Bearings is a master class, for sure.

“Hunk”, the opening track, sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s massive groove and gritty organ melody quickly reminds you why funk is so damned addictive. The title track is a definite standout, as is “Don’t Chin the Dog” (I’m afraid to ask what inspired that title). Every track on this record is meant to move you, and all are masterfully executed. Much props have to be given to the other contributors on Bearings. Cochemea Gastelum on alto sax and flute, Chris Stillwell on bass, George Sluppick on drums and percussion, and Chuck Padra on congas, bongos, and percussion fill out the 20th Congress sound perfectly. What’s really amazing about the symbiosis between these musicians on Get Thy Bearings is how live they sound in the studio. There’s good reason for this: It was recorded live in the studio, just like James Brown used to do.

I’ve tried intently to find something here to criticize, but to no avail. This collection of cuts is the epitome of what funk is and should be. I’ve enjoyed this record so much it’s now my go-to selection for spicing up the mundane, like washing dishes and doing laundry. No matter what activity this record accompanies, it accentuates. It also leads to a hunger for hearing everything that pre-dates Bearings, a feat accomplished by the real masters of music. In a nutshell, there’s no filler here, folks. Get Thy Bearings from start to finish is indeed crack for your earhole. Thankfully, this crack is 100% legal.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/172345-robert-walters-20th-congress-get-thy-bearings/