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Imperial Boxmen: Imperial Boxmen (600 Block)

A review of the quartet's self-titled debut

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Imperial Boxmen: Imperial Boxmen (600 Block)
The cover of Imperial Boxmen

If an album can be simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic, this one is. It’s also a keyboard player’s dream. Imperial Boxmen—a quartet of keyboardist Kevin Ford, bassist Alex Austin, and percussionists Noah Plotkin and Jonathan Marks—hearkens back to CTI-style 1970s jazz-funk fusion while sounding amazingly fresh and modern.

The group’s self-titled debut is the perfect marriage of locked-in-the-groove funk and personal expression. Ford is the focus, using sounds ranging from organ and electric piano to space-age synths. (It’s not clear whether he’s playing an authentic Hammond, Fender Rhodes, or Clavinet; in videos of live performances he uses a Nord Electro, a superb instrument that precisely replicates those keyboards and others.) On songs like “Hashley,” he uses synth patches and organ sounds to lay the groundwork and then employs electric piano for fanciful, soulful solos.

The others get time in the sun too. The every-four-bars drum breaks throughout the entirety of “Garbage Pale Kids” get increasingly creative, and the double-percussionist punch on “Imperial 7”—a prog-funk song in 7/8 that sounds like the love child of George Benson, Rush, and the French electronic duo Air—is a thing of beauty. As is evident from the song titles, though, these guys don’t take themselves too seriously. Look no further than the intro of “Strawberry Feels,” whose Mellotron-like sound pays homage to “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Learn more about Imperial Boxmen on Amazon and Apple Music

Steve Greenlee

Steve Greenlee is the executive editor of the Portland Press Herald in Maine and a former longtime editor and jazz critic at The Boston Globe. He plays keyboards in the Maine bands Under The Covers and Sons Of Quint.