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Congress in Session

Is there anything in the world of jazz-funk that Robert Walter can't do? Following a five-year stint as keyboardist of the seminal club/dance/acid-jazz/impossible to categorize Greyboy Allstars, Walter tossed out a deceptively simple solo album, Spirit of '70, which featured the unfortunately underrated sax skills of Gary Bartz on such amazing numbers as "Volcanic Acne" and "Kick to the Head, Burrito on the Floor." And then came Robert Walter's 20th Congress.

The 20th Congress includes a few new names and a few old, with Greyboy Allstars bassist Chris Stillwell hopping to the new band as well. Though the group has been compared to everyone from DJ Logic to Charlie Hunter, Walter is in fact his own man, offering pros and cons far different from his contemporaries in the modern jazz-rock or jazz-funk pictures. Sure, if you go to a Hunter concert, you are treated to the spectacle of a man playing the bass and the guitar at the same time, but rarely in the genre will you find a band as tight as the 20th Congress.

Walter's new group released its debut CD, Money Shot, in 2000, serving up a righteous blend of funk and acid jazz that, at its best, is jaw-dropping. Comparisons to his peers have become a futile attempt; Walter's own retro leanings tend to make one look to his influences for similarities. Certainly there's a lot of Head Hunters-era Herbie Hancock to be heard here. In fact, Walter's second solo album, released soon after Money Shot, features Harvey Mason on drums, the very same fellow who pounded skins on Hancock's masterpiece. There Goes the Neighborhood features Walter along with a group of jazz-funk giants, including Mason; saxophonist Red Holloway, formerly of the Jack McDuff Group; bassist Chuck Rainey, who began his jazz career with the Crusaders; and guitarist Phil Upchurch, a legend in his own time as the house guitarist for Chess Records. Perhaps the most telling thing to say about Walter is that, on this solo record, he sounds as if he fits right in, hand in hand with the giants.

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Dan Sweeney
Contact: Dan Sweeney

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