We are really lucky here in Ft. Collins. While the arena shows are down in Denver, we still get some incredible musicians passing through. Especially on the jazz and jam scene. Karl Denson has come through town before with his trio but this time, he brought his band, the Greyboy Allstars. This is a band that did much of its recording in the 90's but they've released new music again in the last couple of years. The break is understandable because Denson is so busy. He's got the Karl Denson Trio, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and the Greyboy Allstars. Plus he's played with Lenny Kravitz, Stanton Moore and many others.
The opening act was a local band called W-MOB (White Man Over Bite). I had never heard them but they grew out of another local funk band, 3 Peas. W-MOB bills itself as a pure funk band. Sure, the funk is definitely there... along with some smooth jazz, great fusion playing and even some more progressive jazz influences. They played as a four piece with a guitar driven sound, some frenetic keyboard work, a good solid bass line, and a very funk-centric drum beat.
Their opening song was a bluesy funk that reminded me of Stanton Moore's trio work. Great syncopation and tight repeated riffs. The jump to the second song took things down a bit into more of a smooth jazz sort of sound, which didn't quite work as well for me. The playing was fine but the mood shift was jarring. The third number took us back to a solid jazz setting that served as a base for building up some nice, Jeff Beck era guitar work (think Blow By Blow). The header and bridge had a cool Arabic sounding riff that really pulled in the funk. This song alone was good enough to show why W-Mob should be opening for the Greyboy Allstars. The last song closed with some more riff centered jazz with bluesy breakdown. The keyboard riffs gave this a little bit of a Stevie Wonder groove.
That's something I really liked. Even though the band has such a strong guitar presence, the keys really open this up and bring a lot of energy into the mix. The bass is not overly ornamental but it propels the funk appropriately. There was some really nice snare work, too. This is a fairly tight quartet and I'm really looking forward to catching them again. Unfortunately, they don't have a CD yet, but that will change, I'm sure.
The Greyboy Allstars
First of all, the Greyboy Allstars are not just a backing band for Karl Denson. They are all fine players. The line up is Elgin Park (Michael Andrews) on guitar, Robert Walter on keys, Chris Stillwell on bass, and Aaron Redfield on drums. These guys have played with a lot of the preeminent jazz players out there and Walter and Park have both done soundtrack work, too. In this configuration, they all bring important skills to the band. Denson may be front and center but this is a real band where everyone gets their chance to step up.
The show kicked off with a celebratory groove. There was a lot of byplay between the keys and the guitar. Right away, it's clear that this is a well balanced team. The hand-offs are very smooth -- they make everything look well planned and effortless. But this isn't some kind of sterile Kenny G thing. No, this is a thang, it demands your attention and gets you moving. There's plenty of great sax on this song, but the next one kicks it up, with the sax alternating between punchy interjections and conversational riffing.
The next song shows off just how tight these guys can play. There are a lot of unison/harmony lines between the guitar and the tenor sax. Karl is playing it with some kind of pickup that's adding another harmony part, too.
Moving on from there, it's a roller coaster ride. We go from James Brown style funk with some great singing to a trippy, psychedelic groove with repetitive guitar and keys part and flute running into echo and feedback. There's plenty of the driving funk jazz that Denson is well known for and a lot of retro feeling, classic blues jazz, too. Throughout this, Karl was constantly active. If he wasn't playing the sax or the flute, he'd have a shaker or tambourine going. It's like he's ADHD but it's all directed to flowing with the groove.
My favorite parts were that psychedelic groove I mentioned earlier (I have no idea what it's called), a beautiful cover of Gil Scott-Heron's Lady Day and John Coltrane, and a moody, Miles Davis tinged jam where the guitar threw in some references to the Stones' Paint It Black. The whole show was great, though. By the end, I was totally drained but happy.
Let's call the waiter: dirty martinis are in order for this kind of low down groove. It's a late night and the sweat is dripping.