A reissue of the Greyboy Allstars’ 1994 debut, West Coast Boogaloo, and a brand-new album, Como de Allstars, make for both perfect bookends to the band’s quarter-century career and a splendid introduction to these jazz-funk revivalists. Neither is on CD; both are available as digital downloads and on vinyl, the latter of which is the ideal medium for this kind of music anyway. Alrhough the Greyboy Allstars have been playing together, on and off, for 27 years, Como de Allstars is only the band’s fifth studio album. And though the group has cycled through a few drummers, the quintet’s core—saxophonist/flutist Karl Denson, keyboardist Robert Walter, guitarist Mike Andrews (a.k.a. Elgin Park), and bassist Chris Stillwell—has remained. The intervening albums found the band dabbling in other genres, bringing in tidbits of hip-hop, rock and electronica, but both of these records find them firmly rooted in acid jazz, funk and, of course, boogaloo.
West Coast Boogaloo was, and is, a high-water mark of this brand of music. The band paired up with legendary trombonist Fred Wesley for a tightly packed eight-song set that was steeped in the funk tradition but still felt urgent. Still does. Naturally you hear the imprint of James Brown and the J.B.’s on the music (why else bring on Wesley?), but they’ve got their own thing going on. It may be danceable party music, but highlights abound: Denson’s masterful flute on “Soul Dream,” his scorching tenor solo on a soulful cover of Kool & the Gang’s “Let the Music Take Your Mind,” Stillwell’s rapid pizzicato bass and Wesley’s burbling ’bone on “Fried Grease,” Walter’s alternately cool electric piano and greasy organ, and a deeply funky rhythm section in lockstep throughout.
Como de Allstars, their first new album in seven years, keeps the party going, with the Latin tinge even heavier, right from the title track that kicks off the album. Highly percussive with a grooving guitar riff and group vocals, it’s a song to blast with the windows rolled down. “The Skipper” picks up where West Coast Boogaloo left off, its bass and horn lines suggesting the J.B.’s and Walter’s spiky Clavinet evoking Billy Preston. Each of the musicians has grown more sophisticated over time—Denson’s solos are sweeter, Walter’s B-3 phrasings more complex, Andrews/Park’s rhythms chunkier. Though the band largely gets back to the basics of West Coast Boogaloo, there are detours: the Mexican funk of “Catalina,” the playful romp of “Executive Party,” the spacey chillout of “Complete Breakfast,” and (the one tune that’s too far afield) a Grateful Dead imitation on “Warm Brass.”
Now, let’s get the Allstars’ 1997 A Town Called Earth reissued, and let’s not wait till 2027 for the next record.