Robert Walter performs all his own stunts. For 20 years, the San Diego native has been pulling drawbars and pushing the limits of the Hammond B3 organ. As a founding member of the Greyboy Allstars, he helped usher in the funk-jazz renaissance of the early '90s and has continued to keep one hand comping chords in the instrument's funky past, while the other explores ever-new melodic terrain. On June 25, his long-standing project, Robert Walter's 20th Congress, returns with, Get Thy Bearings, via The Royal Potato Family. It was a recent move from New Orleans to Los Angeles that jump-started the 20th Congress who hadn't recorded a studio album in ten years. The nine-track effort presents Walter's organ, piano, Rhodes and synthesizer driving an all-star line-up rounded out by guitarist/bassist Elgin Park, drummer Aaron Redfield, sax players Karl Denson and Cochemea Gastelum, and percussionist Chuck Prada.
Get Thy Bearings is drenched in the vintage old school soul, funk and jazz vibe of Walter's heroes like Big John Patton, but it also reflects his recent work scoring films. There's a conceptual depth to the songwriting that draws on elements of narrative and character development, lending a cinematic color to the proceedings. The tracks range from the Sly Stone-style soul vamp of "Little Business" to the heavy gospel of "Crux." "Dog Party" might as well be the theme song to a cartoon of the same name, while "Don't Chin the Dog" shifts from delicate shuffle to horn-drenched boogaloo. Things get eerie on "Up From the Skies," a Jimi Hendrix cover rendered nearly unrecognizable in washes of electric Miles. Similarly, the album's title track is a shrewd reworking of the 1968 Donovan tune Walter first discovered on compilation of sample-friendly breakbeats, full of fuzz guitar and a mercurial organ solo.