Reviews

There are, alas, a few less-than-remarkable things about Star City, as well. "Smokehouse" 's ham-handed funk riffing, in particular, is far too obvious for a group whose subtlety is a key element, and they tend to let mood supplant melody on occasion, resulting in meanderers like "Coral." As a whole, though, Star City, uh, shines.

-- Tim Kenneally

The Greyboy Allstars
Friday, Dec. 12
The Fillmore

The musical landscape of the Greyboy Allstars is strewn with retrospection. As luminaries in the West Coast acid-jazz scene, the San Diego-based band's history of recordings -- a collection of solos, group work, and collaborations with progressive DJ Greyboy -- use groove-heavy jazz to invoke the spirit of the soul sides of the JBs; the hard-hitting R&B jazz of Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, and the Adderley brothers; and the kinetic fusion pioneered by Miles Davis, Bob James, and others. But the Allstars do more than just recall past musical traditions; they appropriate the sounds and musical styles of their musical heroes with expert renditions of classic work, like Kool & the Gang's "Let the Music Take Your Mind" on their debut, West Coast Boogaloo. When the appropriation works, the result on wax and compact disc can be refreshing and new. When it doesn't, listening to the Allstars is like peering at a specimen in a glass of formaldehyde.

In the flesh the Greyboy Allstars evoke similar reactions. The songs the band performed in two heaping sets of high-energy jazz at the Fillmore last Friday ranged from mildly entertaining to anticlimactic. The quintet, led by saxman and flutist Karl Denson, played loud and fierce, which suited the temperament of the audience -- a frenzied, tipsy crowd of ravers, bohemes, yuppies, and jazzheads. The packed house wanted grooves it could shake and shimmy to: good musical fun, minus the substance. And Denson and company -- Elgin Park on guitar, Zak Najor on drums, Chris Stillwell on bass, and Robert Walter on keyboards -- obliged them.

Individual band members shined. Denson, on tenor and alto sax, flute, and vocals, is the band's centerpiece, a jazz showman with a Sonny Rollins-like goatee loaded with energy and style. His sound recalls the legends of funk: Maceo Parker, Eddie Harris, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Cannonball Adderley. Likewise, guitarist Park's knack for bouncing from melody to rhythm to counterpoint evokes the early work of George Benson and Kenny Burrell.

But Najor, Stillwell, and Walter lurked in the shadows, upstaged and outclassed. Walter waited until halfway through the second set to take a meaningful solo of his own on a popular Bob James cover. And although Stillwell played guitar on the bubbly "Toys R Us," his work got lost in a soundscape dominated by Park and Denson.

Classic funk works because each musician has a distinct voice and can't wait to share it with the listener. But with the Allstars, only Denson and Park had that fire. Maybe it was because the rhythm section and the keyboard seemed like they were playing out of a can, scripted to sound just like the records.

I love a funky good time as much as the next guy. And I don't mean to sound like a killjoy in opposition to an auditorium packed with adoring fans. But there's something to be said for subtly, spontaneity, and technique. When those elements are missing, a groove band might as well stay home.

-- Victor Haseman

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