Westsound Reunion Feat. Unsinkable Heavies, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio & Lucky Brown Band 5.11.16

Seattle, WA
Nectar Lounge

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

The Westsound Reunion is more than just a concert; it is an annual funk extravaganza that brings together some of Seattle’s finest funk musicians for a wild night of tunes. The event is a celebration of the work of the members of the Westsound Recording Cooperative (The Westsound Union), as well as a birthday party for leader and producer Lucky Brown. Traditionally held on a Friday evening, 2016’s iteration was instead planned for a Wednesday. The musicians responded to this scheduling by treating the performance with the intensity of a weekend night anyway, and eager fans were happy to follow suit.

The first band of the evening was the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio (DLO3 for short). This was somehow my first time catching this group performing, although I had seen Delvon a few times before with Rippin Chicken. This trio features Delvon, Jimmy James on guitar and Dave McGraw on drums. They played a wonderful set of 60’s and 70’s-inspired funk music, complete with full narration from Delvon. In the breaks between songs, he took it upon himself to educate his audience about the history of the group’s cover choices, as well as the influences behind their original material. This lent a personal, informative touch to the set.

Delvon is definitely among the most proficient organists I have seen play. In this small of a group, you really get to see him do it all, from carrying powerful melodies to unleashing a rhythmic onslaught of aural texture with his other hand. Hearing organ music like this always makes me feel like I am at a church, and this was no exception. Delvon did an excellent job of squeezing out every bit of the spiritual power of his instrument onstage. His work was perfectly augmented by Jimmy’s soulful, evocative guitar playing. Jimmy’s face is a great indicator of what is going on in the music, and he was consistently outstanding to watch and listen to. The group is tied together by Dave’s precise pocket drumming, which serves as a steady, calming influence to help unify these two loose cannons.

The Unsinkable Heavies came up next to lay down a blistering set of psychedelic space-funk. I’ve written about these guys before, and it was great to see them play a bigger show finally. Guitarist Ben Bloom and keyboardist Nathan Spicer wasted no time getting into energetic solo sections to loosen up the room. I spent most of this show trying to pay close attention to the communication between the band members, which was a cool way to watch. At one point, saxophonist Art Brown called for a solo, and Ben intuitively knew to come in behind him from the start with a funky strumming pattern to fill in the gaps in his breath. Stuff like this takes a lot of practice to get down, and it’s great to see this much polish on a band that is technically a side project. All of their practice together with the Polyrhythmics has certainly paid dividends.

These guys play funk music with that perfect jazz sensibility. The best track of their set was one called “Right On,” a song that reminded me of Martin, Scofield, Medeski and Wood because of its tight, well-rounded interplay and an especially Scofield-inspired guitar line. My favorite dynamic to pay attention to during this set was the amazing chemistry between drummer Grant Schroff and Nathan’s organ. They spent the entire set weaving beautiful and complementary patterns with their four hands, syncopating effortlessly against each other. With Jason Gray locking down the bassline, Nathan was free to explore and play up high with both hands as he unleashed a flurry of rhythmic texture into the mix.

The evening’s headlining set, the Lucky Now Mystery Orchestra, was basically a giant superjam featuring all of the members of Unsinkable Heavies, along with Lucky Brown (trumpet, flute, vocals and percussion), Thomas Deakin (alto saxophone), and Jason Cressey (trombone). This powerful orchestra rocked us hard during their hour-long set, which contained many jaw-dropping spots of improvisation. You can really tell that these players have all spent time studying each other’s technique and learning to enhance each other’s sound. Lucky tied it all together with some basic conducting as he switched between his instruments, and his infectiously positive energy rubbed off on everyone in the venue. The highlight of the set had to be the dual-keys action between Nathan and Delvon. Delvon took the organ over, while Nathan went into mad scientist mode on the synthesizer. The group closed their set by playing a heartfelt “Happy Birthday” to Lucky.

Previous Westsound Reunions have seen the full superjam pushed until the final set of the evening, and as a listener I was happy to hear it when I still had some energy left to dance. To conclude the evening, we were treated to a full set of the Lucky Brown Band. This group was most of the superjam lineup, minus Nathan Spicer and Grant Schroff, who was replaced on drums. Their set focused in a bit more on original songwriting and Lucky’s soulful vocals. He also had a few breathtaking flute solos, which helped to keep things fresh late into the evening. I was very impressed with the way he was able to feature himself musically, while still making the musicians around him sound better.

All in all, this year’s Westsound Reunion was a smashing success. Members of the Westsound Union delivered sets full of classic, original deep funk tunes, in addition to their epic superjam. These guys are a big part of what makes the Seattle music scene so unique and cool, and we are really lucky to have the opportunity to see them play around town frequently. Keep your ears and eyes peeled this summer for an exciting new collaboration between the Westsound Union and the Polyrhythmics, called “I Believe in Love,” that is sure to blow your mind!

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