Robert Castelli: Boom Quartet
With fusion so often taking the path of least resistance towards high energy, high octane playing it’s easy to forget that, as an alternative to Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever, The Brecker Brothers were a vital force in establishing downtown funk as a foundation for electric jazz. Yes, there was plenty of virtuosity on hand, but the music grooved in ways that many of its contemporaries either wouldn’t or couldn’t. Drummer Robert Castelli’s Boom Quartet, while instrumentally different than The Brecker Brothers–a single horn in saxophonist Tom Muller and guitar as primary accompaniment in Mike Scharf along with bassist Struzi–brings it home with the same kind of downtown New York attitude. This isn’t smoothed out Los Angeles funk; this is get-down, get-greasy and get-dirty music that’s still delivered with finesse and invention.
Muller’s undeniably influenced by Michael Brecker, right down to the occasional processing that emulates the late saxophonist’s ’70s sound with The Brothers. Still, whereas Brecker often used his tremendous facility to build his solos to a fever pitch, punctuating with high-pitched wails, Muller burns with a different kind of energy, one that favors longer tones interspersed with high-speed phrases to navigate the changes with aplomb. Scharf often adopts an overdriven tone for his solos, a little denser than John Scofield but grittier than Mike Stern. Harmonically he, like Muller, favour the Sco school of building tension by taking things ever so slightly out, so that when he comes back in there’s a palpable sense of relief and release.
Castelli and Struzi make for a formidable rhythm team, and while this is Castelli’s date, he’s a more than democratic leader, rarely soloing, and though writing five of the disc’s nine originals, allowing Muller and Scharf to contribute as well. The drummer’s African Dance opens the disc, a piece of high life that echoes Michael Brecker’s Wakaria (What’s Up?), from The Return of The Brecker Brothers (GRP, 1992) and is revisited in a hidden track at the end of the disc. Lumps for Humpty is a greasier piece of 5/4 funk, with Struzi in thumb-popping Marcus Miller mode and Castelli pushing the pulse with visceral, Dennis Chambers-like complexity. Scharf solos with reckless abandon over Castelli and Struzi’s increasingly fervent groove, building to a climax that only sets the bar higher for Muller, who responds in kind for one of the disc’s clear highlights.
Elsewhere, Scharf’s Lovely 16 is a more up-tempo piece of funk, while Muller’s Blonde is a dark ballad that harkens back to Scofield tunes like The Beatles, from Who’s Who (Arista/Novus, 1979). The drummer’s knotty Temporary Insanity is politically charged, with voice samples bringing the post-9/11 message home, while Muller’s Psychology combines edgier rock with brooding, ethereal groove. The saxophonist takes his time building a solo that ends in piercing wails over Struzi and Scharf’s powerful unison riff.
There’s lots of variety on Boom Quartet, and no shortage of solo space. For those who like their fusion with a good dollop of funk, Castelli and his quartet deliver the goods with plenty of attitude on the side.
Personnel: Tom Muller: saxophone; Mike Scharf guitar; Struzi: bass; Robert Castelli: drums.
Tracks: African Dance, Lovely, Blonde, Lumps for Humpty, Temporary Insanity, Psycology, The Cat’s Meow,Blue 13, Decisions Decisions