Album Review: Eddie Roberts’ West Coast Sounds – It’s About Time

What’s that you say? You want some new music that features the expert precision and passion of jazz, and the oomph and fire of rock, but you don’t want the fussiness and self-absorption that sometimes comes with prog? Well, have I got some music for you.

I first discovered Leeds, England-based The New Mastersounds back in 2010; their boogaloo instrumental stylings bridged the gap between jam bands, jazz and rock, and (more significantly) brought together the sometime disparate audiences of all three genres. And they did it in a way that encouraged listeners (and concertgoers) to dance their asses off (if that’s your thing; ain’t mine).

The group was formed in 1999 by guitarist Eddie Roberts, and they have since released, on average, a new album every year since 2001. But even before the group’s debut album, Roberts had a solo career. And his latest – credited to Eddie Roberts’ West Coast Sounds – is his fourth long-player outside the New Mastersounds framework.

It’s similar yet different. Fans of The New Mastersounds are sure to like it, as there’s plenty of boogaloo on tap here. And Roberts’ tasty, fluid electric guitar lines are simply all over this disc. But…not everywhere. With the benefit of a more varied instrumental lineup than his main group, here Roberts exercises the ability to stretch things out musically. With no disrespect to The New Mastersounds, It’s About Time is a far more varied musical excursion.

At its best, It’s About Time showcases Roberts’ jazzy, funkified hollowbody electric guitar, supported by slammin’ (and very snare-centric) drummer Jermal Watson, plus ample, supple support from Wil Blades on Hammond and Hohner Clavinet D6. (There’s no bass guitar on this record, but there’s plenty of bottom end.) Yet two horn players – they often sound like much more – are what add the different textures here. The musical dialogue between Roberts’ guitar and Joe Cohen (tenor sax) and Mike Olmos (trumpet) are what give It’s About Time its most thrilling moments. The signature horn lines on tracks like “The Long Drive Home” and “Bouncin’ Around” are just the icing on the cake; Roberts spins all manner of fluid, manic guitar wizardry. (The latter track and one other features guest tenor sax from Daniel Caseras.) And the drum solo on “Bouncin’ Around” is worthy of Art Blakey.

There’s much more in that vein on It’s About Time, and Roberts gives plenty of the spotlight to his bandmates. In a valiant attempt to move in all directions at once, the record heads in many directions. “Break the Fast” is pretty successful in its evocation of Miami/Havana-styled salsa with a bit of Brazilian jazz thrown in, and “A Day, A Week, A Month, A Year”wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack of a 70s blaxploitation film, and “Black Bag” refreshingly recalls Funk Brothers (specifically Dennis Coffey). “Somebody I Used to Know leans a bit disconcertingly in the direction of Wes Montgomery’s less challenging later-period work, but is redeemed by some interesting salsa-flavored horns.

It’s tough to label It’s About Time: Is it jazz, funk, or something else? In the end, labels don’t matter. For the listener who wants something different, upbeat and substantial, you can’t do much better than this record from Eddie Roberts’ West Coast Sounds.

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