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Thursday August 18th

Walter Dazzles With Blend of Funk-Based Blues

Robert Walter
There Goes the Neighborhood

Funk is not dead, nor does it sleep.

And if the forces of funk were ever to rise up against today's pop powerhouses, pianist/composer Robert Walter would lead them.

The San Diego native has branched off from his band, 20th Congress, to record his latest album, There Goes the Neighborhood. Recording the whole album in a two-day jam session surrounded by some of today's finest funk, blues and jazz artists, Walter has merged three old schools of thought into a sound that's impossible to describe as anything but amazing.

Think of it as Shaft does New Orleans.

Blending three styles of music into one seamless groove might seem tricky, but Walter and his musicians step smoothly over genre lines with their funk keyboards, jazz piano and bluesy bass licks. His music refuses to be pinned down and pigeonholed as any particular style.

Oftentimes a song will start out as pure funk, only to shift into jazz with the insertion of an improv piano lick, courtesy of Walter's fast hands and excellent composing skills.

And some of the tracks are so different from each other that one wonders if one is still listening to the same group.

The first half of the CD is straight out of the '70s. The title track features smooth funk keyboards and guitar playing counterpoint to improv saxophone, with solid bass and drum work filling in the background.

Walter slows things down for the last half, dropping the album's initially funky feel and displaying his blues and jazz roots for songs like "Swap Meet."

The bluesy songs come across as smoother than the preceding funk, and their simplicity contrasts beautifully with the first tracks' elaborate grooves.

Each guest gets his chance with the melody in songs like "Bakery Blues," as the high-speed organ intro gives way to Walter's steady, old-school blues piano and an awesome bass solo courtesy of Chuck Rainey.

It's a rare album indeed that showcases each performer in this manner, and luckily there isn't a bad musician in the whole bunch.

Powerful saxophone and keyboard work appear in nearly every track. Ordinarily, this kind of repetition would get old fast but not with performers of this caliber.

Sax player Red Holloway stands out from the rest. Each of his solos is unique, from the intricate improv of "My Babe" to the smooth feel of "2% Body Fat."

The album closes with "Luck," a slow and introspective piece featuring easy sax licks and simple piano solos that wouldn't sound out of place backing up a gospel choir.

The idea of a funk musician playing spirituals seems pretty far-fetched, and therein lies Walter's genius. Not only is he a piano and synthesizer master, he also can compose a piece of music that cannot be defined as any style but his own.

And Walter is easily one of the best jazz pianists of his generation, swapping his synthesizer for electric organ and piano in the middle of a song. His varied delivery and undeniable skill make every bit of keyboard work different and entertaining.

Talented and creative, he could become funk's new standard bearer. With the recent resurgence of funk in the music world, it's good to see the old genre get a new treatment, especially in the hands of someone as capable as Robert Walter.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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