Back and Bringin’ It On Big

Instrumental Peoples Music (Ramcat Sound Productions)

Splatch

By Tim Roberts

Our everyday discourse frequently becomes infested with little throwaway phrases, those handy syntactical morsels that we sop up from TV or songs or the subcultures and plop into conversations to sound hip, connected, and just to fill verbal space. What would the 1980s have been without “Where’s the beef” and “You Look Mahhhvelous”? (probably a decent decade, despite Miami Vice and David Lee Roth solo albums). In this twilight between the last century and the next, “bring it on” (or its shorthanded version “bring it”) is the handy phrase of the moment. With its origins in in-your-face pickup playground basketball games, “bring it on” has moved into the realm of conversational acceptability (ATTORNEY: “Your honor, we will attempt to show that my client could not have been at the home where the murder was committed.” JUDGE: “Yeah? Bring it on, legalboy.”) It connotes an intense challenge. The gauntlet is at your feet, sissyboy. Do somethin’ about it.

Louisville’s Splatch, the stew of funk, jazz and world beat sounds, has brought it on, and in a titanic way, too. Instrumental Peoples Music is the long-waited follow-up to 1997’s wildly successful, self-titled surprise. After rotating their personnel in the three years since, Splatch has locked itself in as a sextet that makes a condensed sound with a punch that could crumble a wall of cinder block. Trumpeter Tony McDaniel, his bassist brother Pat and drummer Sam Gray are still the kernel members of the band. Gone is Pete Petersen’s thunderstorm of a keyboard, but Gregory Acker replaces it on woodwinds and percussion, John Paul Wright on congas and other percussion, and guitarist Gary Crawford (who also had a small part in the debut recording). With Instrumental Peoples Music from the new lineup, Splatch has outdone themselves. It is a clean-sounding tenacious work with compelling acid funk hooks, crazy solos, rhythms that can make even the clay-footed wanna boogie. They’re back in your face and bringing it on loud. 

They waste no time blasting into the first track “Mr. Buttons,” with Pat’s quick six-note bass run, percussion from John Paul Wright and Greg Acker, and an arpeggio trill from Tony’s trumpet. Things don’t slow for awhile, not until after the reggae roots of “Cheri Faux Face” or the bouncy funk of “Lil’ taste,” featuring a low-keyed solo from Tony on muted trumpet, mirroring his influence from Miles Davis. Acker then takes the band into a deeper exploration of world-beat sounds on the M’Bira finger piano in “M’Bira Song,” which segues into “Zaire.” Following they breezy light funk of Sam Gray’s “Fra Mauro Heights,” Splatch slams into a dark, acid-metal guitar groove with “Swurve.” It is the band’s most astonishing selection on the recording, with its ability to switch from the groove into simple, gentle tonal segments. You must crank up the volume to believe it.

After “What Time Is It,” the one track where the band gets closest to regular ol’ jazz with Acker’s free-form soprano sax opening, and the flute-heavy “Four Minus One,” Splatch signs off with “D-parture (woik dat bass),” with Pat McDaniel’s smoldering layers of bass over a simple repeated rhythm and dark-toned chords from a keyboard. It’s the soundtrack you wish you had playing behind your life when you cruise the city at night.

It may not be fair to single out one member of Splatch who cuts through all of Instrumental Peoples Music to make it memorable. Each member is dedicated to the Splatch sound: clean, tight, and in more pockets than spare change. But if there must be a star of this show, let it be guitarist Gary Crawford. He out-Voxes Peter Frampton during his screaming solo in “Lil’ taste.” His guitar snarls and wails ‘nads-out in “Swurve” as if he’s forcing some demon through new barriers of pain. His part in Instrumental Peoples Music will doubtlessly bring him acclaim as this city’s boldest guitarist.

Splatch’s 1997 debut served as the introduction to a distinctive new band in Louisville. It was loud and defiant toward the city’s music establishment, especially those involved in jazz. That debut and Instrumental Peoples Music prove the men of Splatch can play jazz in any flavor you like, except boring. You may or may not like the way they put it in your face. But it’s going to stay there. Instrumental Peoples Music will make sure of that.

Do somethin’ about it.