Even though the current urban U.S. recording industry is knee deep in the digital era, retro music that strays from the auto-tune and robotic rhythmic madness is very much evident as fans continue to crave more of a refreshing alternative. Recent artists who have truly solidified the “everything old is new again’ theory have completely dedicated their heart and souls to performing original material while capturing the trends of past decades sans today’s voice or instrument programming tricks.
From Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, whose label Daptone Records roster helped spark the ‘revivalist’ movement for soul and funk’s early days, to Soullive, who re-spins the jazz organ trios of the sixties, they have sealed the deal on retro flavor using vintage recording processes that appear to always be here to stay. On an international level, Tristan, a Dutch-based band following these trends, has started to garner attention from their peers for their passionate attention to organic retro detail. Whereas most retro acts find their inspiration in the vaults of the late ‘50s through ‘60s, Tristan expands the throwback universe a decade or three.
Veteran guitarist Steve Lukather presents Tristan the ultimate blessing: “I love this, the best of the ‘70s brought to 2013!” This sextet certainly bleeds the age of high gas and Nixon with props for the decades’ hit-makers, Toto (featuring Lukather), Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers and Tower of Power, while incorporating their strong songwriting skills. Lead vocalist Evelyn Kallansee’s balance of grace and power echoes U.K. soul stylist Lisa Stansfield, while the tight and jazzy supporting core (Sebastian Cornelissen, Frans Vollink, Coen Molenaar, Thomas Bekhuis and Martin Gort) provides solid improvisational skills throughout Full Power. They have obliged their audiences throughout their native Holland and the U.K. with an uncompromising recipe of Tower of Power’s funky jazz hits, Toto’s slick pop/R&B crossover arrangements and Steely Dan’s pop/jazz intricate melodies. Besides their bellbottom era inspirations, Tristan draws from several other sources, including the heyday of the U.K.’s acid jazz movement during the ‘80s and ‘90s, including acts like Incognito and The Brand New Heavies.
Tristan’s debut, Full Power for upstart Netherlands-based Isolde Records, accentuates a raw, live feel without a trace of production programming gadgetry. Tristan’s debut seven-inch (7”) single “Keep On” and “Moontune” opens up Full Power, demonstrating their affection for the grooves, no matter the tempo and texture. The former is superbly framed by Vollink’s bass guitar navigating the rhythmic and melodic passes and Molenaar’s acoustic piano dexterity, while the latter thrives with percussive energy and contagious hooks of “I see the center.” “Ego” touches upon Toto and Steely Dan in an acoustic vein and spotlights a bluesy solo from Bekhuis. In one of the more entertaining ‘interludes,’ “Skip This” steps into a reggae-driven, delightfully spacey synthesizer ride. The title track intersperses a ‘70s fusion jazz pocket a la Return to Forever with an acid jazz aftertaste. A mild Latin jazz flavor radiates throughout “Riverflow” with Sergio Mendes-esque vocal choruses and a timbale solo from Martin Gort.
Though the primary emphasis on Full Power focuses on upbeat grooves, Tristan confidently handles their musical business when they slow the pace down. “Missunderstood” administers encouragement and admonishment with a Doobie Brothers soulful pop flair: “Whatever you do I’m here by your side when you are going through darkest of nights/Don’t slap me down/Down in your drain/ You can decide to get yourself out of this pain.” And the slow soul-jazz jam behind Tower of Power’s trademark piece, “You’re Still a Young Man” is written all over “Butterfly.”
From the get go, Full Power runs fully on Tristan’s crisp and joyful performances that pay due homage to Toto, Tower of Power and other bands that molded pop hit sensibility into their unique soulful canvases. Now Tristan can join those musicians who keep the retro flame burning the old-fashioned way. Highly Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver