On their new album, the New Mastersounds did not change their groove. But they added a singer, Atlanta’s Lamar Williams Jr.
What started as an instrumental band, the New Mastersounds have included a handful of songs with vocals on recent albums. But never anything close to the amount on “Shake It,” released on Sept. 13 on Color Red, a year-old Denver, Colorado, label led by guitarist Eddie Roberts.
Roberts, drummer Simon Allen, bassist Pete Shand and keyboardist Joe Tatton started the New Mastersounds 20 years ago in Leeds, England. The quartet plays as tight as a listener would expect of a jazz-educated band with more than a dozen studio albums and thousands of live performances. In mostly single takes, they recorded the songs, each of them originals. Williams and trumpet player Mike Olmos and tenor saxophone and flute player Jason Mingledorff layered their parts on top.
“To me, it’s the same music I’ve always made,” Roberts told Tahoe Onstage. “It’s just Lamar singing on it, but the back end is all the same. It came together very organically. And what could have been an album with three vocal tracks ended up with eight or nine.
“Also live-wise, he really fits in with the band and I think it’s the first time we don’t really feel like a backing band when (a singer) gets onstage. He feels very much like he’s in the band. He stays onstage when he’s not singing, plays tambourine and gets down with us.”
In a 20th anniversary celebration and new album tour, Williams will perform with the New Mastersounds. The horn section will play the major shows.
The guitarist said he and Williams discovered an appreciation for each other’s music when they both performed at a benefit concert in Denver, Roberts’ adopted United States’ home: “I like the sound of you. I like the sound of you.”
The next time the New Mastersounds played in Atlanta, Williams sat in.
“I purposely didn’t tell the guys about him,” Roberts said. “I didn’t want to say too much. I wanted to see what the chemistry was like. It was just so amazing from the start. We pretty quickly scheduled him some writing sessions.”
“Let’s Go Back” is a standout song on the album. Roberts said it is in the vein of Lee Dorsey, an R&B and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer from New Orleans. After a funky brass introduction, a slow-groove starts with Roberts picking like the Meters’ Leo Nocentelli. Williams enters with cool vocals played over Allen’s sharp rat-a-tat-tat drum beats. Shard bubbles a subtle yet catchy melody on bass, and keyboardist Tatton, who wrote the lyrics, finally joins a most tasteful jam.
Describing the New Mastersounds, Roberts said, “It’s jazzy funk or funky jazz, depending on which side of the line that you come from. Sometimes funk can be a little lacking in meat on the bones — to be a little simplistic. Then again jazz can get a little bit too highbrow and noodly. So it’s always trying to find that nice balance with that right content, but then it’s always still groove forward. That’s the kind of balance that I try to find with the band.”
The New Mastersounds return to their familiar stomping grounds on Sunday, Dec. 29, when they play in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room. The band first well-received show in the U.S. was at the 2005 High Sierra Music Festival, where it has appeared several times. It played a couple of times in the CBC’s Red Room before moving into the larger Crown Room.
Roberts said he was looking forward to working with new CBC sound engineer Charles Twilling, who he worked with several times in Denver. Twilling is the former soundman for The Motet.
Notes: The label Color Red was formed in August 2018 by Roberts and two other producers. It records sessions with artists who come through Denver and releases songs every week, Roberts said. More than 90 singles are on Spotify. … The penultimate track on “Shake It” is a nod to 87-year-old Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin, “On The Up (S.K.A.).” Roberts jammed with Ranglin on his 80th birthday in the American Music Theatre in Pennsylvania. “It was a real eye-opener and it really did affect me,” Roberts said. “By seeing the fluidity and the freedom of how he was playing, it actually changed the way I play.” … Roberts started his first band when he was 18 and attending music school. The Jazz Mailmen were a tribute to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. … When the New Mastersounds started out, more than 50 percent of the songs were Meters covers. … The dexterous guitarist has often been called “Fast Eddie” Roberts. British magazine UK Blues and Soul magazine has a new moniker for him: Eddie “Boogaloo” Roberts.
New Mastersounds album‘Shake It’ featuring Lamar Williams Jr.Release: Sept. 13, 2019
Label: Color Red, www.color-red.co
New Mastersounds in concertOpener: Josh Hoyer Soul Colossal
When: 9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $20 in advance or $23 on the day of the show
Red Room after-party: Mestizo Beat
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.