Pepper Cake PEC 2094-2
9 songs – 53 minutes
When keyboard player Raphael Wressnig – a native of Graz, Austria – sets out to do a soul/blues/funk CD, he definitely doesn’t mess around. He’s gathered together several of the best musicians from the Crescent City and beyond to produce this smooth, stylish album.
Self-taught on the Hammond B3 organ and touring the globe regularly, Wressnig has about 20 CDs in his catalog, spread equally between blues and jazz. He formed his first band, a trio, in 2002, and one of their CDs, In Between, received honors from Concerto magazine as Best Jazz Album of 2004. He followed that up as their Best Jazz Artist in 2007. Many other honors have followed.
In the early 2000s, he also teamed up with Alex Schultz, one of the foremost blues guitar players on the West Coast and a former member of Rod Piazza’s Mighty Flyers, Sax Gordon, the New England horn wizard, and percussionist Luis Ribeiro for the disc, Boom Bello! That relationship resulted in several tours, which sometimes included vocalist Finis Tasby of the Mannish Boys. In 2006, Baton Rouge-based guitar player Larry Garner also invited Wressnig to join his road band, a relationship that continues today. But the keyboard’s roots run even deeper. In his spare time, Wressnig is also a member of the popular Women Of Chicago Blues project, which features Deitra Farr, Grana Louise and Zora Young, backed by their Ladies Men, the Windy City all-star crew of Billy Flynn, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and Felton Crews.
Joining Wressnig on Soul Gumbo are Schultz, Gordon, Garner and a dazzling collection of side men, including Indianapolis-based soul blues vocalist Tad Robinson, guitarist/vocalist Walter “Wolfman” Washington, bass player George Porter Jr. (founding member of the Meters), drummer Stanton Moore (founding member of the jam band Galactic), keyboard great Jon Cleary and a horn section that includes Antonio Gambrell and Eric Bloom (trumpet), Jimmy Carpenter, Craig Handy and Harry Sokal (tenor sax), Max The Sax (alto sax) and Werner Wurm (trombone) as well as Nigel Hall (background vocals).
Wressnig borrows the opening tune, “Chasing Rainbows,” from the catalog of the late Johnny Adams with the melismatic Robinson attacking the vocals. It swings from the jump with Raphael taking a backseat as the band brings the mix to a slow boil. The horns kick off “Soulful Strut,” a New Orleans-style funk instrumental original, providing a toe-tapping introduction before leaving Wressnig with plenty of room to have his own say. “I Want To Know” follows. It’s a slow, sultry seven-minute blues burner written by and featuring Washington on vocals and lead guitar. Porter drives home the bottom.
The keyboard master takes command on the original, entitled “Mustard Greens.” Modern in format and attack, it still manages to deliver a ‘60s-style blues/funk groove, aided by a single-note solo run from Schultz, before yielding the driver’s seat to Cleary on piano and guitar for his own tune, the soulful “Sometimes I Wonder.” Wressnig adds B3 accents as Cleary sings the song of lost love.
The band dips into the songbook of West Coast guitar great Lowell Fulson for “Room With A View.” It’s a straight-ahead blues co-written with Billy Vera that features Robinson on vocals and Schultz on six-string. Wressnig offers a toast to his late Austrian compatriot, former Cannonball Adderley keyboardist Joe Zawinul, with the funky “Slivovitz For Joe” before “Soul Jazz Shuffle,” featuring Handy, and “Nobody Special,” featuring Garner, conclude the set.
Soul Gumbo is definitely worth a heaping serving. It’s modern jazzy, and never off-base. Available through all of the major online retailers.