The Greyboy Allstars have no time for idle hands. The San Diego five-piece chose to use the shutdown to lock-in wisely and broadcast a live-stream series, which notches up their own jazz-funk and boogaloo narrative. Originally aired as Soul Dream—a four-part, episodic series on Nugs.net in the summer of 2021—Get a Job: Music from the Original Broadcast Series Soul Dream is a 10-song set of unique, never-before-released covers that have become an integral part of the band’s famed live set for nearly three decades.
The resulting album captures The Greyboy Allstars in full flight, in performances both raucous and reverent to the formative music that shaped them, while adding their own funky imprint to each song’s arrangement and legacy.
“We keep a running master list of around 70 tunes. From those I picked a mixture of tried-and-true live staples and songs that weren’t always in common rotation,” says band keyboardist Robert Walter of the Get a Job set. “Usually, for gigs I propose a list and then the other members edit and tweak it. For the taping, we wanted each episode to have a theme: two of them focused on originals and the other two were covers: live favorites, and music that came out on Prestige Records. The tunes on this release are the best of the covers.”
Get a Job includes the band performing the debut single and video “I’ve Got Reasons” (Edwin Bocage, Al Scramuzza); “Jug Eyes” (Gene Ammons); “Smokin’ at Tiffany’s” (B. Watley, G. Barr, S. Weakley); “Lady Day and John Coltrane” (Gil Scott-Heron); “Turn It On” (Sonny Stitt); “Taxman” (George Harrison); “I’ve Known Rivers” (Gary Bartz, Langston Hughes); “Play It Back” (Dr. Lonnie Smith); “Got to Get Me a Job” (Don Alford), and “Walk On By” (Burt Bacharach, Hal David).
“The pop covers come from the tradition of the artists we love and how they would grab the pop tunes of the day, most likely to broaden their listening base. George Benson, Grant Green, and Kenny Burrell all did Beatles and Bacharach tunes,” explains band guitarist Elgin Park, of GBA’s tapping of the tradition of savvy jazz legends exploring the then-expanding “fake book” of mid-20th-century pop songs. “Also, everyone is coming with different levels of seriousness to the music at different times.”
The Beatles’ “Taxman” is fast and loose, meeting at the corner of Liverpool and Muscle Shoals; Walters’ Hammond B3 organ and Park’s guitar volley riffs back and forth, the rhythm section of Aaron Redfield and Chris Stillwell keeping their hands on the wheel, with Karl Denson’s saxophone riffs keeping the band on the road. In turns both playful and fierce, “Taxman” finds GBA capturing the lightning of their live shows in a four-minute bolt of funk.
“’Walk On By’ has been covered by tons of jazz people. We didn’t want to copy any particular version so we made our own,” says Walter. “‘I’ve Known Rivers’ has such a deep vibe on the original that we do it as more of a tribute than a reimagining.”
The band takes the former, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s 1963 mega-hit, through the paces via an up-tempo strut while leaving breathing room for the soloists to step in. The mystical glow of Gary Bartz’s “I’ve Known Rivers,” originally inspired by a poem by Langston Hughes, shines brightly in GBA’s studio space.
“I think ‘Rivers’ brings us back to our early collaboration with Gary Bartz on Robert’s record (1996’s Spirit of ’70),” says Park. “It reminds me of how fortunate we were to cross paths with this giant at such a seminal time in the band’s history.”
This performance of the Bartz composition finds the band in full shimmering jazz invocation. Denson’s vocals glide over the syncopated jazz-funk, then he shifts his cadence seamlessly to saxophone, swimming through a vocabulary of avant-jazz languages.
Soul jazz receives the full measure of respect and innovation with the band’s version of Gene Ammons’ 1970 original, “Jug Eyes.” Over the band’s bedrock groove, Denson levels up the arrangement with a saxophone solo that ramps up the energy. Walters and Park’s respective solos continue the ascent, as the syncopated bass-and-drum force of Stillwell and Redfield push the band to the highest possible altitude of relentless vamping funk. By the song’s end, GBA dims the performance to a conversational murmur, a real-time recollection of the expedition through Ammons’s classic.
Deep cuts and crate-digger delights like Ann Alford’s 1971 soul-funk scorcher “Got to Get Me a Job” and Gil Scott-Heron’s “Lady Day and John Coltrane.” GBA crushes the blunt economic woes of addiction of Alford’s hardcore original. Gil Scott-Heron was one of the more forward-thinking music polymaths of the last century. In the hands of GBA, “Lady Day and John Coltrane” is propelled forward with a feel bordering on outrage, conjuring Scott-Heron’s plea for peace into a current age of dissonance where his words seem even more prophetic.
There is a generosity of spirit that runs through Get a Job. The band’s decision to take the tragedy of Covid-19 lockdown and open their studio space for a kind of digital communion with their fans is evident in the resulting collection. Yet even in the playing of these covers, both classic and obscure, there is an ease of playing that gives service to the song, rare in a band of such heavyweight soloists. “The more we play together, the more I enjoy listening to the other guys,” offers Park. “It seems like a simple idea but finding a place in the mix is what’s important: not the solo. Weave a thread inside the fabric.”
Get a Job: Music from the Original Broadcast Series Soul Dream drops on April 1 and will be available as a streaming, digital download and vinyl release. The band currently have a 21-date spring tour booked plus a music video for the album’s lead single, “I’ve Got Reasons.”
It will be a tour essentially in support of a live album that documents a “live stream tour.” It’s 21st-century paradox—fitting for The Greyboy Allstars, a band that continues to remain prolific and potent whether on stage, in the studio, or on the laptop screen.