:: Hodi’s Half Note :: January 17 :: Cervante’s Ballroom :: January 18 ::
:: Fox Theatre :: January 19 ::
By Timothy Dwenger
Inspired by the ’70s funk and groove of Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes, and The Meters, jazz guitarist Eddie Roberts and drummer Simon Allen have been striving for nearly 10 years to hone their sound and refine it to something that moves dance floors in a way that few other instrumental bands can.
They began life as the guitar-centric Mastersounds before quickly realizing that the sultry churning of a Hammond B3 organ was essential to the sound they were looking for. Though the band only lasted a couple of years and recorded one single, it laid the foundation for a long-standing musical relationship between the two. Roberts and Allen struck out on their own and soon crossed paths with Hammond player Bob Birch and bassist Pete Shand. The New Mastersounds were born and the search was over.
The sound that Roberts and Allen had been searching for is a tight mix of jazz and funk that comes to life in the hands of these talented players. While there is ample evidence of the band members’ fondness for jazz in their sound, the groove that is laid down by the rhythm section of Shand and Allen is what holds the whole thing together and keeps the wheels on when Roberts stretches out in jazz-laced solos.
Recently, the Italian label Record Kicks took some serious interest in the band and knew that their tight, jazzy yet funk-based sound, would be perfect for the clubs if it were remixed by some of the scene’s best DJs. “They approached us saying, ‘We’d like to release a remix album, how ‘bout it?’ We were like, ‘yeah great,’” Roberts said in a recent interview with The Marquee from his home in Leeds, England. “Then they asked us if we could sort it out and we kinda turned it back on them because we’ve tried to get remixes done in the past and it is difficult because everyone is so busy and to pull a project like that together takes so much time and effort. It’s just not our thing. We were busy making a new album and touring, so we told them they could run with it and we would be happy to provide all the tracks and send them out to whoever wants to do what. They ended up pulling it together and it was relatively easy for us, as I just had to dig out all the separates for every track and get them out,” Roberts said.
It wasn’t until the project was finished that Roberts got to hear the result and, as chance would have it, he heard it in exactly the right setting the first time. “We were in France and I stayed at the bar late night having a few drinks after our set and Simon [Allen] had given a copy of the album to the DJ, who ended up just putting it on. I was talking and all of a sudden I was like, ‘I know this tune,’ and I didn’t realize he had put the album on, so back-to-back there were all these tunes I knew and I was getting so confused,” laughed Roberts. “It was really nice to hear it in the club environment, which is what it is made for as opposed to hearing it at home for the first time. The dance floor was full and people were just going for it. They weren’t batting an eyelid and they were dancing like it was all different music. It seemed like it was only really me that knew what was going on.”
While in the U.S. the music of The New Mastersounds is largely heard only when they are in town and up on the stage, in other parts of the world things are different and their music is part of the aural fabric of the club scene. “With all the 7-inch singles and the vinyl that we have put out, a lot of DJs around the world have our music and you can be in a club anywhere and all of a sudden a couple of tracks come on and you go, ‘Huh, this is us,’ and you see everyone dancing,” said Roberts.
In many ways, the role of a funk band, like The New Mastersounds in the U.K., is one of a DJ and it is up to the live sound engineer to push the bass or the volume to satisfy the demands of the party. “The places we tend to play in the U.K. there is usually only one band on the bill, with DJs on before and after us. We are there to play for an hour-and-a-quarter and that’s it,” Roberts said. “That’s really where our sound has come from. The dance floor is already going and we have to slam it for an hour-and-a-quarter and give them something extra compared to what the DJ is giving them. When we’re done we give it back to the DJ and the people carry on dancing for another three hours or more and we usually go out and join them.”
When playing the stages of the U.S., The New Mastersounds are looking to pack the dance floors in the same way. However, without the benefit of a DJ to help out, they have to shoulder the load and play extended sets to the delight of their rabid American fan base. “We have always found it weird when we come to the States and all of a sudden when the band stops everyone leaves,” Roberts said. “We have obviously had to rethink our one-and-a-quarter hour sets because you can’t just go out there, play for an hour and have everyone leave. So we started to get into this thing where we’d play longer and longer and it got all the way up to four hours one time, just keeping the dance floor going all that time, like a DJ would,” Roberts said.
:: New Mastersounds ::
:: Hodi’s Half Note :: January 17 ::
:: Cervante’s Ballroom :: January 18:
:: Fox Theatre :: January 19 ::
Recommended if you like:
• The Greyboy Allstars
• The Meters
• Papa Grows Funk