Since lockdown restrictions were lifted ParrJazz and Future Yard have been bringing us a host of big names from Across the Pond.
They kicked off back in November 2021 when we were treated to surrealist jazz-funk guitarist and former Prince collaborator MonoNeon. This was followed by another Prince protégé and NPG singer Liv Warfield. Now we have been treated to the explosion of sound and funk that is Ghost-Note.
If you are a musician, you will know that a ghost note is a musical note with a rhythmic value, but no discernible pitch. For those of us who aren’t conversant with the occasionally arcane language of musicians, it’s that thing bass players do to make their guitars sound like drums, or that drummers do to sneak in extra mini-beats between the main rhythm. It’s part of what makes funk so funky! So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is Ghost-Note’s moniker.
Ghost-Note is the brainchild of Sput (Robert) Searight and Nate Werth. With two drum kits, conga drums and a variety cow bells it is heavily percussion based. Throw into the mix some keyboards, bass and lead guitar, a tarnished trombone, an even more tarnished alto sax, a flute and an eclectic bunch of musicians and you have the musical equivalent of a great trifle; tasty and better than the sum of its parts.
To open, Sput tells us that with the pandemic preventing live gigs they’ve forgotten all their old tracks. But it’s OK as they’ve recorded 36 new ones that have yet to be released and will be playing a selection of these tonight. Opening with Is That Alright they go on to include Spunky, Bad Knees, Be Somebody and Baloney Roney. Clear references to and inspiration by James Brown could be heard and I could even pick out MonoNeon’s bass with the eponymous ghost notes. At times there was a hint of early 70s Dirty Harry jazz, which jazz aficionado Clint Eastwood would surely approve.
With Sput frequently engaging with the audience, it was an intimate event and it felt like I was at some fabulous basement party where some dudes just decided to start playing. The sort of legendary party people talk about or you see in a movie but you suspect never happens. I now suspect they do, mostly at Sput’s place.
At one point we transcended into performance art. In search of the ultimate ghost note the players progressively played their instruments with less volume while the sax and trombone players simultaneously got physically lower and lower. It ended in silence and a sax player lying flat on his back.
The skill of the Ghost-Note ensemble was clear to see. But rather than coming across as geeky it was affectionate and engaging. As Sput put it, “You mix the rhythm with the melody and repeat and get the funk” and Birkenhead got plenty of funk.
Support came from Moody Manc DJ who played some funk, jazz and Latin beats to warm the crowd up. Resembling a 70s surfer dude, he was taciturn and seeming oblivious to his audience as he danced away behind his decks supported on pink beer crates.
Overall another stellar night from ParrJazz that shows jazz’s ability to bring people together. Perhaps the world needs more jazz.