Keyed Up

Robert Walter

20th Congress, The Greyboy Allstars

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Robert Walter’s 20th Congress digs into summer touring on August 3rd in Jackson, WY and winds their way through Vail, Boulder, Los Angeles, San Francisco and more as they make their way to the tour closer in Seattle on September 14. Get the dates and details here, and then plan to join them as they tear it up in a city near you.

Robert Walter by Chad Smith

Robert Walter by Chad Smith

If ever a musician could be said to make love to their instrument it’s Robert Walter. Put him behind a Hammond B-3 and you’ll see the whole ritual of confident, smiling seduction to lusty, handsy foreplay to contorted, orgasmic culmination play across Walter’s face and lively frame. Put another way, the man puts his back into in ways you can see and feel. He’s nearly as animated at the piano but there’s something about the swell ‘n’ swing of the B-3 that seizes Walter in a really appealing manner. But, while he’s swivel hipping and tossing his head back, he’s also a man in command, quite simply one of the most razor sharp, expertly instinctive players the Impound has ever had the pleasure of witnessing work. He possesses an intelligence and perceptive knack for finding just what each piece in a crazy variety of settings requires, and then delivering that thing right on time with bravura attack and dexterous grace. If feel is what you want then Robert Walter has it in spades.

New Album

New Album

However, for all his flair, heft and juicy chops, Walter is an increasingly potent composer, able to get the job done in a focused, satisfying manner that’s lean on leggy solos and strong on compelling melodic turns and instrumental interplay. To wit, the new joint from Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Get Thy Bearings (released June 25 on The Royal Potato Family label and available HERE), where his tunes hold their own against classic 60s soul jazz, primo soundtrack work, and more basically, the most readily enjoyable instrumental music out there – a song cycle filled with pep and ear-snagging goodness. While some pieces call back to bouncing gems like the Sanford and Son theme “The Streetbeater,” elsewhere, notably on the title track (an instrumental take on a Donovan number which frankly betters the original) and “Inversion Layer,” Walter reveals a pleasing melancholy streak, a bittersweet grooviness that’s positively wistful. The musicianship throughout is top flight, and Walter dovetails perfectly with Elgin Park (guitar, bass), Aaron Redfield (drums), Cochemea Gastelum (saxophones), Chuck Prada (percussion) and guest Karl Denson (sax on “Hunk,” flute on “Don’t Chin The Dog”). Get Thy Bearings is just plain cool, a long player that continues the traditions of Jimmy Smith, Henry Mancini and other class acts by both honoring and extending the bright threads in their landmark work.

Here’s what Robert had to the Impound’s keyboardist inquiry.

Favorite keyboard? Why?
I started on piano, so that was my favorite for many years, and where I have written a lot of my music. Lately though the Hammond organ has taken over as the place I feel the most at home. I love the variety of sounds and the feel of it. Just the motor warming up makes me inspired. They are handmade, irritable and giant.
Tastiest keyboardist – i.e. not just soloing but also overall playing – currently working?
Herbie Hancock is my all-time favorite. His body of work is vast and varied, and everything is played with an ease that makes you feel like there is even more lurking beneath the surface. I especially like the early 70s stuff – Crossings, Sextant – before he fully embraced funk music. I ripped off my delay note bending thing on the Rhodes from him. He’s made some music in recent years that I’m not that into, but whenever you see him play there is a lot to learn from.
A keyboard solo I never get tired of listening to is…
”Actual Proof” by Herbie Hancock (Thrust) – Fender Rhodes

“On The Sunny Side of the Street” by James Booker (New Orleans Piano Wizard Live) – piano

“Greensleeves” by Jimmy Smith (Organ Grinder Swing) – B3

Preferred brand of keys? Why?
As discussed earlier, Hammond B3, and in general all the old electric keyboards – Wurlitzers, Clavinets, Fender Rhodes. I like to mess around with synthesizers but find them limited as far as the music I’m trying to make.
Thelonius Monk, Bernie Worrell or Nicky Hopkins– which one gives you the biggest keyboard boner? What makes them SO sweet?
It’s a tie between Monk and Bernie. I actually find them similar but from different eras. Both are totally unique and instantly recognizable, and they both groove hard, but in an interesting way. Each of them avoided clichés to the point where they’ve invented their own.
One lesser known keyboardist folks should check out is…
Bobby Watley from Funk Inc. is great. Also Big John Patton is a big influence on me. Larry Young, Shirley Scott, Gene Harris, Archibald, Bill Doggett…there’s a million.
What aspect of being a keyboardist always makes you happy?
I enjoy being able to play multiple parts of the music at the same time. It’s like having a whole band at your fingertips. Great for composing. Also no broken strings.

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