Rocked Out Seriously Funky Jaw Dropping Ear Candy!
is the subtitle/explanation tothe name of the spectacular group Vinyl Hampdin
whose debut album Red
(Armored Records) provides undeniable testimony to every word of that heavily promising description. Founded by the remarkable trombonist/composer-arranger Steve Wiest, the band is a powerhouse of highly acclaimed award-winning musicians whose wide range of credentials covers a full swath from Maynard Ferguson and Carmen McRae to DJ Logic and the current aggregation of the legendary super-group Chicago.
That last credit is quite appropriate as Steve’s concept behind this group is “What would Chicago, Blood Sweat &Tears and Tower of Power sound like if they started out today?” This remarkable recording provides an excellent answer, especially if you roll the lean and mean funkiness of Fred Wesley’s and Maceo Parker’s JBs into the mix. Steve also applies the unfailing Charles Mingus recipe of… if you want a band that sounds big; bring in musicians with big sounds. And every member of Vinyl Hampdin– from horns to rhythm to the explosive vocal dynamo Lisa Dodd – owns a very big voice, making this 4-horn, 4-rhythm ensemble thunder like a big band.
Joining Steve and Lisa in the group are Art Bouton on baritone sax and flute; Ray Herrmann on tenor sax and flute; trumpeter Frank David Greene; guitarist Ryan Davidson; Eric Gunnison on keyboards; and Gerald Stockton and Stockton Helbing on bass and drums respectively. The musicianship is virtuosic, with Lisa’s sensational vocals as the nucleus – and always fully in place as part of the ensemble sound. Both the horn tandem and rhythm section play with a synergy of purpose that locks them together not only as individual components of the music, but also in symbiotic fashion to create a unified sound that can deliver the bounty with seismic intensity or subtle gentility, even with just a quarter-rest for the transition. The solos – exceptional, but short and no-nonsense – abstain from virtuosity for its own sake, but are there as part of the overall context to enhance the unified sound.
The outstanding repertoire of 11 songs – all flawlessly arranged by Steve – is comprised of six covers and five Wiest originals (two with lyrics by Dodd). The covers remain faithful enough to the source material of these highly popular songs, but the stunningly original arrangements certainly qualify them as re-imaginations. One possible exception to this is the opening track’s adherence to Stevie Wonder’s brilliant horn and synthesizer lines on Superstition,as even a writer as enormously talented as Wiest knows there’s no purpose in messing with perfection. But his superb arrangement using the baritone sax as the main engine of the horns, along with infectious syncopation, exciting call-and-response and Gunnison’s terrific piano solo make it totally fresh.
Bookending this as the closing track is a more liberal interpretation, with rolling horns providing extra jetpower for the rhythm section-driven exploration of Bill Withers’ classic Use Me; filled with sparkling syncopation, tantalizing suspensions, a rip-roaring wah-wah guitar solo and a smoking Afro-Cuban flavored climax. Back into the big-sound root source is Rare Earth’s I Just Want to Celebrate, with its multi-layered horns, vibrant vocal and Steve delivering a pair of energetically hollerin’ trombone solos.
Transforming the source material into larger sound is at the core of the remaining three covers. Bonnie Raitt’s The Road’s My Middle Nameretains its country blues roots with Lisa’s blues-drenched, soulful vocal but with punchy horns replacing the harmonica obbligato of the original and a delightful two-step danced by vocal and guitar. The Statler Brothers’ Flowers on the Wall, with dueling and suspended horn lines and a starkly syncopated rhythm section with a growling bottom pushing the vocal produce a palpable sense of the ominous throughout. Linda and Paul McCartney’s captivating Wings ballad My Lovereceives a straightforward, lovely take with the rich horn arrangement providing a lustrous canvas for Lisa’s winsome vocal.
Wiest’s five originals are all perfectly complementary to the hit tunes contained on this delightful album, with Lisa offering the compelling lyrics for two of them. Pay for Itfollows its N’Orleans funeral march-like opening with an unfettered kick-ass soul-fest. Deliciously suspended horns with wailing trombone and trumpet usher in a gutty Herrmann tenor solo and riveting call-and-response between horns and vocal, spiraling into a closing tornado. Billionswith powerful, sobering lyrics is a dramatic, narrative-driven piece with staccato horns that swells to a vivid climax, downshifts into a slow boil of horns and syncopated rhythm, then soars to a second staggering climax – truly a song for our challenging times.
Steve also wrote the intriguing lyrics for the remaining three songs, which further demonstrate Wiest’s impressive range as a composer. Gottaluvitis a hard-rocking kicker built on the sound of the title, stoked by Afro-beat style, chicken-scratch guitar. With horn/voice unison chant on the title refrain, it also features a round-robin of blazing horn solos. On Diamonds,richly lustrous horns drape, cushion and prod Lisa’s passionate vocal, setting the scene for sprawling guitar interwoven with swirling horns and closing on a group vocal chant. Essentially a four-movement suite, One Song’s opening fanfare morphs into a gentle vamp that evokes the intro to Stairway to Heaven and flows into an anthem-ish ballad buoyed by sumptuous horns and dramatic drums. Then a sinuous build to a crescendo with wailing guitar, ultimately closing out amid densely textured horns.
Blending its heavy focus upon hard-blowing, high-gear, take-no-prisoners explosiveness with subtle and entrancing imagination, Vinyl Hampdin’s Redis a marvelous debut and a portent of great things to come.
For more information, visit https://www.vinylhampdin.com/