Album Review: The Greyboy Allstars with Fred Wesley — West Coast Boogaloo
The Greyboy Allstars have a rich history. Founded more than 25 years ago, the soul jazz group came together originally to work as a backing band for DJ Greyboy, a major figure in the deep groove scene. The band continues to this day – with nearly the same personnel as when it began – and released its sixth album, Como De Allstars, in June. That album (with vocals) is the group’s first release in some seven years, and now it’s joined by a vinyl reissue of its debut, West Coast Boogaloo.
West Coast Boogaloo is notable not only as The Greyboy Allstars’ first album, but also because it features trombonist Fred Wesley on three of its eight cuts. Wesley, of course, is best known as a key member of James Brown’s band and as the leader of The J.B’s; he has also collaborated with and/or guested on albums by Maeco Parker, Parliament, George Benson, Bootsy Collins and others.
Right out of with their 1994 debut release, The Greyboy Allstars didn’t exactly need any help. The instrumental West Coast Boogaloo is an exemplar of its genre, and in retrospect can be seen as an important, groundbreaking salvo in the the resurgence of boogaloo/soul jazz, a movement that saw the well-deserved rise of acts like New Mastersounds, Soulive and The Sugarman 3.
Though their approach is timeless, on their debut album, what The Greyboy Allstars did best was to faithfully rercreate the vibe and character of classic soul jazz in a way that put it back in front of modern-day listeners. That meant rubbery, deep grooves, shimmering electric piano, rock-solid rhythm section work and indelibly melodic lines that completely remove the need for vocals. Leader Karl Denson – who has since developed an impressive career of his own leading Tiny Universe – delivers on sax and flute, while Elgin Park (born Mike Andrews) is somehow both subtle and distinctive on guitar.
Fred Wesley joins the Allstars for “Soul Dream,” “Fried Grease” and “Gravee,” but in the grand tradition of jazz ensemble work, he’s fully integrated into the band on those tracks. Everybody takes a turn at soloing, but the focus is firmly upon working as a cohesive unit. And while jazz is at its core an exploratory art, in the hands of The Greyboy Allstars with and without Fred Wesley, it’s more about accessibility. This is feel-good music that feels really, really good.
Until this reissue, vinyl copies – the preferred format for the deep groove crowd – were quite hard to find; original LP copies of West Coast Boogaloo changed hands on discogs.com for more than $50, and even today sellers are looking to get $100 or even much more. The new reissue comes pressed on lovely lavender vinyl, too, making it all that much nicer (there’s a tricolor version too). But in the end, it’s about the music. And The Greyboy Allstars deliver the goods.