Every time organ master and keyboard virtuoso Robert Walter reconvenes his 20th Congress, he delves deeper and deeper into the wellspring of his most formative influences: hip-shaking vintage soul, window-rattling ‘60s-‘70s funk, and the sounds of classic organ jazz. However, for his latest outing, ‘Spacesuit’ (due September 21st on The Royal Potato Family), Walter switched his source of inspiration from digging through the crates to gazing speculatively skyward, imagining new worlds rather than emulating classic records. The results lose none of the explosive funk and soul grooves that Walter has become known for (whether leading his own bands, as a founding member of The Greyboy Allstars, or touring with Phish bassist Mike Gordon) and it takes those sounds into outer space, blending inspiration from science fiction movies, comic books and art with wide-ranging influences encompassing everything from Dub Reggae to Krautrock to early jazz-rock fusion.
“I wanted to break myself out of writing music about music,” Walter says. “I remember when I was a kid I loved all the mysterious qualities about science fiction, comic books and movies. I started looking at those kinds of things, trying to find something to get influenced by other than musical genre worship.”
To venture into this more expansive sonic territory, Walter has assembled a new crew of brilliant improvisers and genre-bending virtuosos under the 20th Congress mantle. Drummer Simon Lott (Kool Keith, Charlie Hunter) is a longtime collaborator who brings a refreshing unpredictability anchored in deep-rooted New Orleans rhythms. Bassist Victor Little (Billy Preston, Charlie Musselwhite) started sitting in with the band on a series of west coast gigs and gradually became essential to the evolving sound. Guitarist Chris Alford (Cassandra Wilson, Mike Dillon) has worked extensively with Lott in New Orleans, bringing a baked-in chemistry that has mutated into the infectious sound of this incarnation of the 20th Congress.