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.

read on for Robert Walter’s answers

Asher Fulero

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Asher Fulero by Zipporah Lomax

Asher Fulero by Zipporah Lomax

Keyboardist don’t come more versatile or off-handedly fearless than Asher Fulero, an astute student of keyboard history in the recorded musical era that never allows his learned POV to get in the way of playing with feeling and immediacy. A fixture of the West Coast jazz, jam and rock scenes for many years, Fulero, still a young player, has already established himself as one of Matt Butler’s go-to guys for Everyone Orchestra – always a sign of a high quality, open-minded musician – as well as an explorer of electronic music’s new frontiers with Halo Refuser and Surrounded By Ninjas. But these projects only hint at his depths, which folks may sometimes miss because of his general good nature and unassuming approach to his craft. Rather than wave his arms to draw attention to his contributions, Fulero just wades into myriad situations with a smile and gets down to business, a superb collaborator and gracious co-conspirator with oodles of solo stomping magic tucked up his sleeve.

However, Fulero’s ability to blend in and accentuate the positives in his band mates sometimes means that his work doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Thankfully his newest offering, Liminal Rites pick it up (released June 4 and available here), is a solo piano outing that finds Fulero soaring into breathy, gorgeous spaces that showcase all the creativity, natural talent and gig-honed skill living in his hands. While many high-end players have distinctive ticks, Fulero really doesn’t except for an abiding emotional well that he pours into his compositions and performances, and the emotional undertow on this solo album is powerful, a gravity that pulls at the heart and makes eyes well up at times.

Keyed_Asher_Liminal

On Liminal Rites there is love and dreaming, spirit and struggle, peace and discord, and all together it plays out like an affair without words – wordless because none are needed. Who is the affair with? Could be someone mortal – what else drives songwriters to such passion? – but Liminal Rites also comes across as a conversation with the universe and perhaps God, a descendent of McCoy Tyner’s 60s musings with Coltrane filtered through the genre-cracking atmospherics of George Winston and the limber, lean-in-close ivory dancing of John Hicks and Don Pullen.

It’s the kind of record one puts on when they need to muse and stretch their mind beyond the friction and bustle of the day, an album for sunrises and moon watching, perhaps best enjoyed alone or holding hands with someone dear who’s comfortable listening and absorbing without needing to intrude with language and digressions. It is incredibly beautiful and as naked a presentation of Fulero’s many gifts as a musician and composer as anything in his ever-expanding catalog. For the Impound’s tastes, we think it’s the best album he’s ever made – a revelation of just how bloody good this guy is at what he does.

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

read on for Asher’s answers

Perpetual Groove's Matthew McDonald

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PGroove (McDonald far right)

PGroove (McDonald far right)

If you’re not already listening to Perpetual Groove then you’re missing out on one of modern rock’s killer outfits. While the Georgia-based quartet’s roots lay in the once-burgeoning jam band scene of the early 2000s, it’s a false soundbite that doesn’t fit the sharper edged, darker hued group of today, particularly in their willingness to get a lil’ seedy and celebrate drugs, sex and other good-bad behavior we love despite our better angels. With unassailable musicianship, a bold, dynamic live presence and a near encyclopedic knowledge of popular music in the past 25 years (and beyond back to British Invasion touchstones and Fillmore West pioneers), PGroove makes rock their playground, mingling Peter Gabriel, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd and Avett Brothers covers with originals that stand up ably next to such iconic material. This band knows what great music sounds like and holds themselves to that standard, though never with the stoic self-seriousness that mars many groups vying for significance. To the contrary, Perpetual Groove, even at their most steely-eyed and focused, has fun engaging with sound and shaping it to their will.

A big part of PGroove’s allure, at least for the Impound, is keyboardist-vocalist Matthew McDonald, who provides endless texture, vibe and sonic non-sequiturs, navigating the band’s continually swirling mix of whisper intimate moments and stadium-ready bigness. His rig suggests a mad scientist but McDonald is no maker of monsters (unless he wants them), and what pours from his imagination is ever-immediate, the thinking behind it invisible as his touch strokes the unfolding now. Unlike a lot of keyboardists, it’s hard to gauge his inspirations – early Brian Eno and maybe pinches of Phish’s Page McConnell and Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes might be in the mix but it’s hard to divine this guy’s recipe. He’s got a fine set of pipes to boot, and the combination of his voice and singer-guitarist Brock Butler is a combination redolent of countless late night hotel room sessions, the camaraderie of a shared cause given voice.

Perpetual Groove is in pre-production for their long-awaited fifth studio album, and the band is touring steadily throughout the winter and spring (dates and details here).

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

read on for McDonald’s answers

John Medeski

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John Medeski by John Margaretten

With super duper high-end musicians there’s often a stink of technique and training that’s impossible to conceal. It’s nothing many great players can control, and it’s totally understandable given the hours of practice, study, etc. that’s required to reach the top levels of one’s instrument and craft. However, there are beautiful exceptions, where all the muscular skill and the hard work it takes to build it are invisible and what comes through is music so pure, clear and free it makes the listener inhale excitedly, a breath of life issued in sound that’s not tied to school, charts, and intellect. John Medeski is the epitome of such exceptions, an original seemingly un-entangled by tradition – though clearly aware of and adept at it in multiple genres – from the moment he burst into the general musical consciousness with Medeski Martin & Wood in the early 1990s.

Only 47, Medeski has always seemed an old soul who could comfortably pull up a seat next to the likes Oscar Peterson, Brian Eno and Ahmad Jamal and hold his own. Combine that with a willingness to dive into any deep end offered – the gospel-blues of The Word, the prickly fusion adventures of Dave Fiuczynski, the tough-minded spirituality of John Zorn’s Masada, singer-songwriter rock with Bob Dylan, Ray LaMontagne & Rufus Wainwright, and much more besides – and what emerges is one of the most curious and capable keyboardists of all-time. It’s not an outrageous claim by any stretch given how Medeski has excelled at every challenge thrown at him, eagerly pursuing opportunities to try new things and generally knocking it out of the park in whatever game he’s engaged in. Rather than a fixed style, Medeski has shown nigh-endless flavor, his instincts on the money whether he’s carving out Satie-like piano figures written by Greg Rogove, raising the ghost of Tony Williams’ Lifetime with Spectrum Road, or sharpening his teeth with Coheed and Cambria – three winning projects from just this past year.

New MMW Album

His latest effort with MMW, Free Magic (released September 25 on Indirecto Records), is a killer snapshot of the keyboardist in full, unencumbered flight captured during the trio’s first-ever acoustic tour in 2007. Through this set’s five lengthy, improv dappled tracks one discovers a man as delighted in tickling a toy piano as he is in making a baby grand caper with Astaire fingers. Free Magic puts MMW’s raw curiosity in the spotlight while accentuating the long-held belief that what they share musically is akin to telepathy. Without a word they travel near and far, welcoming melodies and chance elements into the same room to see how they sit and move together. A great deal of intense listening is part of the process, and these archival recordings allow one to eavesdrop from within the burbling, clanking, excitedly open center of things. It’s a rare album in the modern era that really rewards one for turning the lights down low and giving it one’s full attention.

Here’s what Medeski had to say in the Impound’s keyboardist survey.

Favorite keyboard? Why?
I don’t really have a favorite. I am a keyboard-polygamist. If there could be only one, it would be piano. Needs no electricity, has the ultimate touch sensitivity, and has the most range of any keyboard for me. BUT, since I can have more than one, Hammond B3 (or C3 or A100) would be next, then Mellotron.
Tastiest keyboardist – i.e. not just soloing but also overall playing – currently working?
Another impossible question. Depends on what we’re in the mood for, non? You get sick and die if you eat only one thing, they say. But just to be a nice guy, I’ll say Ray Charles.
A keyboard solo I never get tired of listening to is…
Sun-Ra’s Moog solo – Nuits de la Fondation Maeght Vol. 1
Preferred brand of keys? Why?
Sadly, there isn’t anything being made currently that I love or feel a deep connection with. Steinway still makes good pianos, of course. Oh! I take that back. The new M4000 Mellotron from Streetly Electronics. They’ve taken the old model and reproduced it perfectly, with great detail, and made improvements that actually ARE improvements. A much more solid machine with four times as many sounds as the original. I’ve also been enjoying the MEM PALette analog synth. It doesn’t have a keyboard so maybe it doesn’t fall under “keys” – really great though.
Thelonius Monk, Bernie Worrell or Nicky Hopkins– which one gives you the biggest keyboard boner? What makes them SO sweet?
I’m SO not able to answer that. Boner is a boner and again, a mono-diet is deadly, after all! What makes ALL of these guys so “sweet” is how when they play, every note counts. Their contribution to any given song or piece becomes classic and an integral part of the composition.
One lesser known keyboardist folks should check out is…
Jamie Saft is someone I would say isn’t as well known as he should be but is incredible – one of my favorites. He plays everything, has his own style, rocks.
What aspect of being a keyboardist always makes you happy?
One of things I enjoy most is bringing keyboards into situations or styles of music that don’t normally have or even detest keyboards. It’s not about what you play, it’s about what you contribute. I also love that keyboards are great for playing solo, unaccompanied. You’ve got it all.

Marco Benevento

Benevento/Russo Duo, Garage A Trois, Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Bustle In Your Hedgerow

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Marco Benevento by John Margaretten

Marco Benevento by John Margaretten

Musicians who inhabit diverse skins – as comfortable in stripes as they are in spots – are frequently described as “chameleon-like,” which presumes they’re taking on the form(s) of others, a skillful sort of mimicry or approximation but something lacking in individual identity. While Marco Benevento seems to adapt to nearly any setting or style with duck-to-water aplomb, there’s never a sense he’s trying to mold himself in anyone else’s image. With Benevento one simply can’t do the usual critic equation of combining touchstones with qualifying adjectives. That sort of thinking just doesn’t add up with Marco who seemed quite alien – in the most beautiful, oh-shit-this-is-First-Contact way – from the moment he emerged to national (if underground for a period) consciousness with his buddy Joe Russo [see his drummer questionnaire here] in the early 2000s.

More simply, Marco is a singularity. Yes, there are tasty bits of great keyboardists past afloat in his sound stew – James Booker’s beatifically irregular New Orleans bounce, the cosmic drift and adamant modernity of Lonnie Liston Smith and Headhunter-era Herbie Hancock (with a dollop of Herbie’s In A Silent Way poetry), a Krautrock-ish groove sensibility that would fit in great with prime Can or Faust, a splash of Glen Gould-y classical know-how, the storytelling directness of The Band’s Richard Manuel – but one is hard pressed to discern fingerprints or clear lines in his ancestry. Free of genre restrictions or hero worshipping orthodoxy, Benevento has emerged as one of the most original keyboard voices in the past few decades.

New Album

New Album

His game-for-anything attitude is on happy display throughout Benevento’s new album, TigerFace (released September 11 by The Royal Potato Family), a journey – smooth and sumptuous – where one wonders from chapter to chapter, “Well, how did I get here, especially given where I last found my steps?” In visceral terms, TigerFace feels like a wonderful brain massage, where synapses attach to fragrant bubbles, which burst and drop them into yet more effervescence for the imagination. Largely instrumental (as is usually the case with Benevento), this set opens with a pair of collaborations with Rubblebucket lead singer Kalmia Traver, where the singer soars at her elemental, primal best – a sound of pure, finger snapping sensuality awash in music that only adds to the natural lift and shimmy of her gifts. Later, Benevento continues his work bringing boogie woogie into the 21st century on “Do What She Told You” and “Escape Horse,” which offer earthy, knee bouncin’ counterpoint to the spaciousness of pieces like “Soma” and “Fireworks.” Other coconspirators on this album include bassists Reed Mathis, Dave Dreiwitz and Phish’s Mike Gordon, drummers Andrew Barr and Matt Chamberlain, as well as saxophonist Stuart Bogie and violinist Ali Helnwein – another always promising thing about Benevento is the company he keeps. Like its creator, TigerFace is unique, a wide horizon filled with joy, light, and colorful things to rest one’s attentions upon.

The TigerFace tour began this past week and continues well into the fall. For full itinerary pop over here.

Here’s what Marco had to say in the Impound’s keyboardist survey.

read on for Marco’s answers

Neal Evans

Soulive, Lettuce

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Neal Evans

Neal Evans

Musicians, when they reach a certain level of skill and intuition, become magicians. What they accomplish with the same tools as countless others transcends what one can learn in a book, school, or even at the elbow of a master. For the best players, an intangible element moves them from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and no amount of description or investigation will ever pin down exactly why they’ve got it and others don’t. And Neal Evans, the keyboard maestro for Soulive and Lettuce, is a fluckin’ sorcerer, a conjurer of textures, melodies and crushing basslines that make the air – and folks in listening range – dance. What he does with Hammond Organ, electric Rhodes and more moves with liquid charm, a fluid energy that visibly flows from his flexing, bouncing, character-filled body as he pursues synergy with his gear, fellow musicians, and audience. While what Evans does can’t be fully explained, it’s visceral as a confident hand on your thigh, an invitation to move in close and open up to what he’s throwing at ya.

Already well regarded in jam and soul-jazz spheres, Evans recently unveiled his solo debut, BANG, which carries echoes of his past but more prominently shoots him into a richer artistic future by embracing quality elements of soundtrack composition, contemporary electronica, and fat free modal moods. Like the man himself, everything on BANG is lean and sinewy, each track getting what needs doing done and then moving on in swift order. Melodies and intelligent construction outweigh jamming here, and while it’s clear in spots this is the sparring partner one knows from Soulive, it’s equally evident that we’re hearing new facets of this ever-evolving musician. No doubt, the mythic feel sought by many but possessed by few that Evans has exhibited in his funky day jobs is present, but the take away from BANG is the sharp spotlight this set throws on his compositional skills and instincts as a musical editor.

Here’s what Neal had to say in the Impound’s keyboardist survey.

read on for Evans’ answers

Jay Gonzalez

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Jay Gonzalez

Jay Gonzalez had some mighty big shoes to step into when he joined the Drive-By Truckers in 2008. His predecessor was Muscle Shoals royalty Spooner Oldham, an ivory tickler with one of the finest CVs in the biz, and while the pairing of Oldham and DBT had been relatively satisfying it wasn’t exactly a perfect fit (to these ears). From the first time Dirty Impound caught Gonzalez with the band at two-night barn-burner at The Fillmore in SF, we were certain that the Truckers had found the right man for the job. Gonzalez quickly found his place amidst the three guitar frontline, texturing the music and even muscling in for a share of the solo space from time to time – no inch is given in the Drive-By Truckers – a player in the line with Ian McLagan and Johnnie Johnson, i.e. keyboardists able to NOT be swallowed whole by rock’s general genuflecting to six-stringers.

However, nothing in his Truckers work prepares one for his freakin’ delightful solo debut, Mess of Happiness (DI review), where Gonzalez reveals his unadulterated pop side in a sound redolent of solid gold 70s AM radio, early solo Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren, and even early Ben Folds Five. There’s great sweetness and a winning lightness of touch to Gonzalez’s tunes, and each cut is arranged and produced with obvious care – as apparent a labor of love as we’ve ever encountered. It’s an album to confound any preconceptions around this gifted young musician and a pointer to swell sounds to come. And the videos from Mess [shared at end of this article] show off an endearingly playful side – we’re reminded of The Monkees capering – that’s probably not safe to flash around the likes of Mike Cooley. Everything about Gonzalez’s solo work speaks to an artist who loves what he’s doing and does it so well one is quickly smitten with what he’s dishing out.

Here’s what Jay had to say to the Impound’s keyboardist inquiry.

read on for Jay’s answers

Mighty Dave Pellicciaro

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Materialized (Mighty Dave, far left)

Catch Materialized this Friday, February 17th, at The Fillmore in San Francisco at the annual Cosmic Love Ball, where they’ll be joined by special guests guitarist Brian Jordan (Karl Denson, Lauren Hill), MC Radio Active and Robin Coomer (Loop!Station) along with headliner improv-electronica faves EOTO and others in an amorous sonic genesis. Tickets available here!

David Pellicciaro bills himself as a “solid B3 & keyboard player,” but the man better known as “Mighty Dave” left mere solid behind some years back. A mainstay of the SF Bay Area’s improv, funk, live-electronica and jazz worlds, Pellicciaro expresses the full storytelling capabilities of the Hammond B3 organ with a style that’s warmly conversational but also eager to stretch the dialect and push into new sounds, new combinations and new spaces. He’s none too shabby on a whole host of other keyboards, too, where his yen for cool noises, ensnaring melodies and undulating atmosphere surfaces in colors, bright and dark – the Impound really digs when the Mighty One gets down ‘n’ dirty werid!

His main collaboration in recent years is Materialized, a dare-ya-to-define-it modern music molding adventure built around Pellicciaro and drummer Dale Fanning (The Living Daylights) but expanding and shrinking to accommodate varied amounts of input from horns, guitars, etc. In their duo form, they do their part to update the vibe of a classic soul-jazz pair for the new century, but their nature is appealingly malleable, welcoming hands that hold whatever one wants to pour into them, with Fanning and Pellicciaro each capable of being prime soloists and superb support players. What’s especially fun about Materialized is how one might encounter almost any kind of music happening with them and rest fairly assured they’ll spin it ‘round with aplomb.

Pellicciaro has been called in by giants like the Grateful Dead, The Black Crowes and others, all of whom recognize the guy’s pro instincts and rules defying character. It’s a pretty neat combination of traits that continues to make Pellicciaro a much in-demand soundtrack composer, session player, and live staple in the S.F. scene and beyond.

Check out Materialized most recent album here!

Check out a brand new Materialized cut here!

Here’s what Mighty Dave had to say in the Impound’s keyboardist survey.

read on for Mighty Dave’s answers