After an eight year hiatus, the Greyboy Allstars have reconvened over the past year. Touring to ecstatic audiences must have enlivened the fellows; their latest studio release is perhaps the team's best work. Fun, spunky, thoughtful, and rich, What Happened to Television is the culmination of the experimentation and free thought that has occupied the individual members and their side projects over that eight year span. Greyboy comes strong with Meters-styled funk and James Brown soul, and an acid jazz sensibility.
The band is comprised of Karl Denson on saxophone, flute, and percussion; Elgin Park on guitar; Robert Walter on keyboards; Chris Stillwell on bass; and Zak Najor on drums and percussion. It should be noted that co-founder and provocateur DJ Greyboy features on two tracks, and all band members kick in timely backing vocals as well. The band is ably bolstered by guest vocals by Heather Grook on two well-produced tracks, rising star Inara George on "Still Waiting," and the Living Sisters (George, Eleni Mandel, and Becky Stark) on "How Glad I Am."
Rump-shakers like "Still Waiting" recall the best of Bootsy's bass, and the sax of Maceo Parker. In fact, it is this comparison that is most suited for Greyboy's de facto leader, Denson. Notable for his compact force, he builds with the fluctuation between irascible sax, melodic flute, and heart-exposed vocals--like Parker with a much sweeter voice. The allegiance to that era was cemented on their 1995 debut, West Coast Bugaloo, an album that featured Parliament member and frequent Maceo Parker contributor Fred Wesley. My rump shakes most to "Give the drummer some more," a club-worthy jam with dubby sounding back-up vocals, a tribute to the contribution of DJ Greyboy on that track.
The overall vibe of this album is that of community spirit, a spontaneous gathering of old friends that happen to be superior artists. Hanging out, coming up with songs, and making this album (as they apparently did over a ten day period) must have been euphoric. While most of the music feels upbeat, and brave, it should be said that politically, and socially, the band is one rooted in jazz and soul lore…with great respect held for New Orleans jazz history. The album has lovely cover art with terrific depth. A flood--strewn with televisions and dingy boats--brings my focus back to that very genesis of jazz music. I am left with thoughts of a flood-ravaged culture that is battling complacency for survival. • Robert Karmin