Julius Caesar famously said, “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.” Even though he probably said it originally in Greek, I’m sure what he meant was: This review is divided into three parts. Reasonably sure, anyway.
As a big fan of Christian Ryan and his work with Holey Miss Moley and Savi Fernandez, among others, I was keen to see Leisure Chief (formerly Buster Keaton), yet another of the bands that claims a piece of Ryan and his alto saxophone. Finally, I got half an hour’s worth at OBJ and was duly impressed, remembering first the keyboards sifting through the trees as I approached the OBJ stage that Saturday morning.
Finally, I had the opportunity to see Leisure Chief (formerly Buster Keaton) again, this time opening for the Gerry Williams Band at Skipper’s on a Sunday afternoon under beautiful skies. This quintet plays great funky jazz with a great collective sound. I was drawn once again to Keegan Matthews’ work on keyboards. He gets a sound that reminds me of Eumir Deodato and other CTI artists of the early 70s with that great Fender Rhodes sound. Nick Bogdon had a number of well-constructed solos on guitar, and his voice is so smooth, reminding me once again that most of the singers on our scene are much more talented than the trash on commercial radio. Drummer Derek Engstrom joined him on some of the vocals to great effect, and he paired with Chris McMullen on bass to provide that strong rhythm backing. It was a great set. That was the first part of the review.
And Ryan? He kills it every time, no matter who invites him on stage. No wonder everybody wants some.
I had seen the Gerry Williams once before, but obviously I did not listen carefully enough the first time. He and his band dig deep, deep into the funk trove, mining old-school classics and great original tunes Give credit first and foremost to an amazing rhythm section (Jeremy Kalenic on drums, Marco Bojorquez on bass) who were absolutely unstoppable, relentless, driving. Add Williams’ strong voice, great keyboard skills and radiant personality, and the band is off to the races. Uberpresent Clay Watson on trombone was a blast to hear when playing and to watch when mugging in between. The female vocalist got numerous opportunities to shine, as did Bill Moss on trumpet. [I’m hoping that I will be able to match some names up here eventually; no luck so far.]
This was great, wonderful funk, whether Stevie Wonder covers, P-Funk references, or a little Maze-like “Joy and Pain.” That was the second part.
The third part? Allow me to set this up for you. Perhaps you have seen guitar players who channel some of the great players of our time. I’ve seen Stevie Ray Vaughan channel Hendrix. Dweezil Zappa channel his dad. Warren Haynes channel Albert King (and about a dozen others as well). So now let’s talk about Roland Simmons. I know I’ve seen him before, both with Williams and with the Legendary JCs, but this night was… visionary. Ever solo he took, I felt he was channelling Eddie Hazel, the original P-Funk guitarist.
I hope you understand that I say “channelling” with the deepest respect. This is not a matter of copying; it is a matter of being truly in sync with a former player’s legacy. Simmons said that people often think he sounds like Hendrix, and there are similarities, but it’s Hazel that comes out in his solos. Time after time, Williams gave him solo space, and every time Roland stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park. Every time. On the next-to-last song of the second set, Williams went back to the drum kit, and Simmons delivered his best solo of the night (I kept hearing the original “Red Hot Mama”). You owe it to yourself to check him out.
P.S. Simmons told me he has a trio with my favorite bass player on the planet, Matt Lapham, and Anthony Cole, drummer par excellence with MOFRO. They call themselves The Brown Note. (And that name in and of itself is worth looking up.)
P.P.S. I never got to see Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel; my first P-Funk show was ’76, and by then Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton had taken over for Hazel. Hazel is responsible for the stunning guitar work on “Standing On the Verge of Getting It On.” And I just discovered that it is Hazel who takes the amazing solo on “Man’s Best Friend” from George Clinton’s 1978 “Computer Games.” I should have known!