By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the seminal modern jazz-funk bands to emerge during the early ’90s “rare groove” revival, fiery quintet the Greyboy Allstars bring their potent grooves to the Bay Area for a pair of Noise Pop Festival shows starting Thursday.
Formed in 1994 at the behest of their namesake San Diego-based acid jazz/funk producer DJ Greyboy to play the record release party for his Ubiquity Records debut Freestylin’ (saxophonist Karl Denson had played on the album), the quintet drew on the creme of the Southern California city’s young soul-jazz players. In addition to touring veteran and de facto leader Denson, the group featured keyboardist Robert Walter, guitarist Michael Andrews (playing under his stage name Elgin Park), bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Zak Najor.
Quickly establishing a local following with their hard-grooving take on the ’60s and ’70s sounds of such boogaloo legends as Hammond B-3 maestros Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Brother Jack McDuff as well as the inevitable influence of funk godfather James Brown, the band began playing regular gigs up and down the West Coast. The Greyboy Allstars received a particularly warm embrace in San Francisco, where the group frequently sold out and sweaty dance parties at popular Mission club the Elbo Room.
The Allstars made their proper recorded debut in 1995 with West Coast Boogaloo, an energetic effort for Greyboy Records that featured a guest appearance by legendary James Brown bandleader and funk trombone great Fred Wesley. The group would continue to tour relentlessly, graduating to larger venues and becoming a festival favorite with their powerhouse live sets. After their follow-up sophomore album A Town Called Earth and a subsequent live concert document, the Allstars would take a break, allowing the individual members to pursue own like-minded band projects like Robert Walter’s 20th Congress and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.
The group would periodically reunite to play together in the years that followed, but it wasn’t until they reconvened in 2006 that fans finally were promised a long-overdue new album. What Happened to Television? came out to ecstatic reviews from followers and critics alike who embraced the renewed funk fervor heard on singles like “Still Waiting” and the blazing title cut. While Najor has since left the Allstars (though he still plays with KDTU), he was ably replaced by friend Aaron Redfield for the quintet’s most recent album, the irrepressibly funky 2013 recording Inland Emperor.
Though the members still have numerous other musical commitments that take up their time — Denson has been serving as the featured saxophone player for the Rolling Stones since the passing of their longtime horn player Bobby Keys — the band still gets together for live performances. The Greyboy Allstars make a welcome return to the Bay Area for two shows as part of this year’s Noise Pop Festival. On Thursday, the band headlines the Independent in San Francisco with support from experimental local jazz/hip hop quartet Secret Sidewalk. Friday, the show moves to the New Parish with live trip-hop crew Ghost & the City opening.
Noise Pop 2020: The Greyboy Allstars
Thursday, Feb. 27, 8:30 p.m. $30
Friday, Feb. 28, 8:30 p.m. $30
The New Parish