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(Telarc 83648 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/29/2006)
The resurgence of jam bands has led to the blossoming of various sub-genres. There are the rock-based jam bands like Moe and of course, Phish; those who get into bluegrass, like Leftover Salmon and Railroad Earth, and those who incorporate world music to some extent like the String Cheese Incident can sometimes do. And there have been a good number of funky jam bands appearing such as Soulive and Medeski, Martin & Wood. This week we have a funk-based, organ-combo, jam-band style recording from New Orleans drummer Stanton Moore. His CD, his third under his own name, though the first with wider distribution, is called III.
Stanton Moore is a New Orleans native and was steeped in the Crescent City's legendary music scene, taking in Professor Longhair, Dr. John, the Meters, and drummer Johnny Vidacovich, who Moore considers a mentor.
In the early 1990s, he was a founder of the popular funk and fusion band Galactic, which became a sextet with a strong horn section. The band toured extensively, and in the process Moore met up with and collaborated on various projects with John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood, Meters bassist George Porter, Jr., and guitarist Charlie Hunter. With 8-string guitarist Hunter and a saxophonist named Skerik, Moore released his first solo album called All Kooked Out, in 1998, which he followed in 2001 with one called Flyin' the Koop. Moore also formed a band with Hunter and Skerik called Garage a Trios, which recorded three albums.
Now Stanton Moore is out with III, whose instrumentation starts with a classic organ combo of Hammond B3 played by a San Diego-based player Robert Walter, whose own band 20th Congress, we also featured in this album review series. On guitar is Will Bernard, known for his work with the eclectic jazz and fusion ensemble T.J. Kirk. Rounding out the personnel on most tracks are a two-member horn section with Skerik again on the sax and Mark Mullins on trombone. The sax-trombone combination conjures the sound of a classic band from the past, the Crusaders.
This all-instrumental CD is very much a groove-oriented recording, though there are some tunes you can more or less pick out. The music ranges from a kind of down-in-the-swamp bluesy sound to some upbeat edgier funk in the James Brown tradition. Interestingly, Moore does not claim composer's credits for any of the material on the CD. Most was written by keyboard man Robert Walter, though there are also tracks by guitarist Will Bernard, and by trombonist Mark Mullins. There are also three covers, including one by Led Zeppelin.
Stanton Moore was one of the many musicians who suffered losses in the Hurricane Katrina floods, though afterward, he donated and helped to get donations for musicians affected, arranging and performing at benefit concerts. Moore recorded III after Katrina, and there is a suite of pieces on the CD inspired by the flood, that ends the CD.
But the main focus of the recording is a strong funk groove, and that is apparent from the start, with the CD leading off with one of Walter's pieces called Poison Pushy. It features just the trio and has a kind of classic James Brown groove, which Moore drives throughout. <<>>
The horns make their first appearance on another Robert Walter tune called Licorice. It's not much on melody you can hum, but it's got a great low-down "swamp" feel. <<>>
Also reminiscent of James Brown is the more upbeat Big 'Uns Get the Ball Rolling, also by Walter. Guitarist Bernard gets a chance to stretch out. <<>>
A bit less driving is the track written by trombonist Mullins called Chilcock, though it's hardly laid back. It provides an opportunity for the horns to show their stuff in solos. <<>>
The track written by Will Bernard is called Dunkin' in the Deep, and it resembles his work with the band T.J. Kirk, being a bit more complex rhythmically and a bit jazzier in overall sound. It's one of the album's highlights. <<>>
The CD ends with a trilogy of cover pieces Moore included inspired by Hurricane Katrina. The first is a composition by South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim called Water from a Ancient Well. It is reminiscent of an old spiritual. It's a nice change of pace and shows a different facet of the band. <<>>
That leads into the Led Zeppelin tune, When the Levee Breaks, an obvious choice, though less so without vocals. The band gets low-down in the swamp again, and also shows its bluesier side. Will Bernard plays some impressive slide guitar. <<>>
The closing piece is a genuine old spiritual We Shall Not Be Moved, done on resonator guitar and a bit of organ. Moore's tom toms assume the sound of the drums in a New Orleans funeral marching band. It's a nice touch. <<>>
Stanton Moore's new CD III, is a great album for those who like their jam band music funky. Moore and his colleagues Robert Walter and Will Bernard create a generous collection of tunes that lock in an infectious groove and stay with it. The playing is first rate, though fairly straightforward, without a lot of flashy virtuosity. The focus is on the beat, and Moore and company succeed brilliantly at it.
Sonically, the album is a bit unconventional. Moore recorded the CD in New Orleans' historic Preservation Hall, during a period before music performances returned. He wanted to capture the ambience of the place. But that is not very apparent. For the past couple of decades most recording engineers use 6 or more microphones on a drum kit to a detailed sound of all the elements of the drums. It sounded as if Moore used only one or two distant mics on the drums, so the sound is rather indistinct throughout, which I think detracts a bit from the tightness of the rhythmic grooves. There is also a lot of volume compression and occasionally there will be the sound of audio clipping, from excessive level on the organ and guitar, and the stereo perspective gives a flat, two-dimensional sound. So we'll charitably give it a B-minus.
This is not the kind of album that is going to provide much in the way of startling new perspectives in music, but if you are looking for some irresistible funk with a decidedly retro sound, Stanton Moore's III is a great way to go.
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