The Justus Brothers – Memphis International Records MIR 2032, 38:58 ****:
With a bona fide musical pedigree, The Justus Brothers have individually been an integral part of the Memphis scene for over three decades. Their credits run the gamut from Booker T to ZZ Top, Solomon Burke to Neil Young, Little Milton to Mavis Staples, Al Green to Isaac Hayes…and the beat goes on! Their emergence on Memphis recordings has been a training ground for the spirited combination of soul, gospel and grooves that define this genre. On the self-titled debut, this quintet (Pat Register/saxophones, flute; Dave Smith/bass; Steve Potts/drums; Jason Clark/electric piano, keyboards, Hammond B3; Niko Lyras – guitars) refine a hybrid of soul and Contemporary jazz with verve and polish. In an unusual lead off, the group (which also includes a percussionist (Billy Ramirez) takes on an atmospheric duo of Sting tunes (“Fragile/Fields Of Gold”). With a gentle, rolling saxophone (Register), a steady flow develops. “Fields Of Gold” (from Ten Summoners Tales) epitomizes the pop jazz sensibilities of this writer. The group builds a texture with layered keyboard, guitar and rhythm. Shifting into “Fragile”, Niko Lyras executes a solo on nylon string guitar as the saxophone glows in front of a Latin-infused jam. Truer to their roots, “Chinese Checkers” (a Booker T Jones/Steve Cropper/Lewis Steinberg/Al Jackson Jr. tune) is all about the gospel funk. Anchored by the electric piano hooks of Clark, there are modulated chords, muscular saxophone and guitar hooks galore. The addition of trumpet (Scott Thompson) and trombone (Jason Yasinsky) expand the layered Memphis soul arrangement.
In another change of direction, Cuban-inspired grooves permeate “Sabroso”. Clark’s piano triggers the alternating lines by Register on flute and Lyras’ stringed guitar. The buoyant jam has punctuated stops and a percussion interlude by Ramirez. The rhythm duo of Steve Potts and Dave Smith is perfectly insinuated into this visceral number. Lyras on a self-penned composition (“Miss L”) injects a slow dance vibe with graceful licks and shares the spotlight with Register on flute. In one of the album highlights, “Askin’ Ain’t Gettin’” generates an uncanny balance of early 70’s soul and electric jazz that is dazzling with soulful exuberance. There is a bluesy saxophone break for extra measure. Lyras’ guitar is both funky in its timing and jazzy in its notation. The band is fiercely cohesive. Keeping the groove moving “Hip Pocket” is finger-snapping and harmonic. Clark’s electric piano distills an organic hipness and Register flexes on saxophone.
“King’s Strut” is driven by the propulsive drumming of Potts and shaded by Hammond B3. The rhythmic inflection is hypnotic and the raw passion of this band is on full display. The guitar effects are a nice touch. In a jazz fusion amalgam, fellow Memphis stalwart Ernest Williamson’s “Garment District” is festive and up tempo with a a barrage of hooks, grooves and chord manipulations. Register’s moody interlude is countered by Lyras’ no-holds-barred assault. A breezy cover of Michael McDonalds r & b-flavored hit “I Keep Forgetting’” is playful and introduces Katrina Anderson on vocals.
The Justus Brothers have arrived in style!
Pat Register – tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Dave Smith – bass; Steve Potts – drums; Jason Clark – electric piano, Hammond B3, synthesizers; Niko Lyras – electric and nylon string guitar; with special guests: Billy Ramirez – percussion; Scott Thompson – trumpet (track #2); Jason Yasinsky – trombone (track #2); Katrina Anderson – vocals (track #9)
Fragile/Fields Of Gold
Chinese Checkers; Sabroso
Askin’ Ain’t Gettin’
I Keep Forgetting