Interview & Review: Robert Walter Trio @ the 8×10

Robert Walter Trio (Robert Walter – keyboards, James Singleton – upright bass, Johnny Vidacovich – drums) played an exciting set at the 8X10 populated by songs from Super Heavy Organ (2006) and their new album Cure All (2008) as well as a few surprises. Robert schlepped his chopped B3 and Fender Rhodes wired to a Proco Rat 2 and a Maxon analog delay. James Played his upright all night and occasionally a Boomerang for looping effects.

This lineup plays much more adventurously with the tunes than his other groups do. While respecting the underlying structure of the compositions, there was a lot of experimentation with rhythm and mood. They kicked off the night with high energy tunes like “Maple Plank”, brought it down low with “34 Small”, a ballad Robert wrote for his son, and then came back dark and funky with “Hardware”. A highlight for me for the night was a rousing cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma!”. The chorus of “We all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun!” was recorded by a bunch of drunks recruited from Hatchetts pub near Abbey Road Studios and should therefore have had greater appeal in the barroom setting. They closed out the night with a Singleton composition, “Bulldog Run”, where James started out solo and was joined later by the rest of the trio for an improvisational finale. Overall, a fantastically entertaining night.

The trio was kind enough to sit down with me before their set and talk about their music and their latest recorded expression, Cure All.

Aural States- On Cure All your compositions are a lot more varied that on your previous record. There’s lots of swing, a nice ballad, a shuffle…

Robert Walter: I tried to do jazz with a funk vocabulary but more open, and free. This record came from compositions rather than a vehicle to play solos over. It’s a vehicle for tunes I wrote for Johnny and James.

AS- How was Cure All recorded?

RW- The whole album was recorded in session with a little overdubbing here and there. We recorded the entire album in two days.

AS- In the past, especially with the 20th Congress, you have held down the bass parts with your left hand. How has playing with James affected your playing?

RW- It frees me up harmonically to float on top of the thing and stretch the harmony out. I can listen to what he’s playing and push other keys against it.

AS- James, what’s it been like working with Robert?

James Singleton- It’s fun to work with an artist with a clear vision and to watch yourself reacting. It’s more difficult if the artist doesn’t have a vision. We both like surprises. It’s been a ball. I appreciate his spirit and the breadth of his compositions. We also recorded one of my tunes, Bulldog Run, for the album.

AS- What are you listening to in the van?

RW- “Old Meters, Professor Longhair.

JP- In the video interview you did for Super Heavy Organ, you talk about a certain collection of records that you consider to be a musical bible. What records were you referring to?

RW- I’m into Fats Waller and Art Tatum. I can’t approach what they do technically, but I want to maybe make reference to their music but also combine it with the funky thing. There’s also:

  • The first 5 Meters records
  • Herbie Hancock – Headhunters, Thrust
  • Dr. John – Right Place, Wrong Time
  • Jimmy Smith – Organ Grinder Swing
  • Curtis Mayfield – Live
  • Joni Mitchell – Live

And many others…

AS- What’s your next project going to be?

RW- I want to make another record with this trio. I want to start freeform, then edit it together like Bitches Brew.

AS- Johnny, your style is very free. I heard you singing a rhythm earlier in the evening. What’s your approach to feeling the music?

Johnny Vidacovich- Everybody has a different reaction to playing. I like to make the song the priority. Even within a drum solo, it’s my obligation. I’m supposed to play what the music, the environment, the people want me to play. I’m not hearing or singing or even thinking what I’m playing. I’m just singing the song. The song is in my heart. It’s the song that counts… It ain’t about me. I love playing.

AS- I like to give everyone I talk to a chance to speak their mind about anything they choose. Shoot.

RW- Okay here’s my rant: I think there’s a shift in how people are listening to music. It’s been warped by fast gratification. People want… fast food, they want it in large quantities and they want it on demand. So music becomes driven by investment, by payoff, and how it fits into the market. But this tour is all curveballs. It’s not easy entertainment, but we’re trying to go somewhere new, some place we haven’t gone before. You know, we get on stage and some guy might be like, ‘Bring the funk!’. And I will… bring the funk… but I might bring something else too.

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3 Responses to “Interview & Review: Robert Walter Trio @ the 8×10”

  1. When was this show?

  2. I’d like to respond to Robert Walter’s last comment because I definitely shouted “Bring the Green Onions” and he definitely did NOT bring the green onions the last time I saw him (though he was with Stanton Moore and Will Bernard. To be fair though, he also did not pass the peas.

  3. Trevor says:

    Great interview. I wish more media outlets asked artists probing and intelligent questions like these instead of the generic stuff- it shows the artist that you actually know their body of work, not just their name. Nice work, looking forward to more.

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