Ghost-Note: Mustard n’ Onions

Snarky Puppy spin-off lays good jazz solos over tight, energetic funk variously recalling James Brown, Tower of Power and Prince


Ike and Tina Turner took the phrase “funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter” to title their 1970 single and the same could be used to describe the latest serving from hip collective Ghost-Note.

The band was formed 10 years ago in Dallas, Texas by drummer Robert “Sput” Searlight and percussionist Nate Werth as a spin off to the Grammy-winning group, Snarky Puppy. With little pause for breath, Mustard n’ Onions is 80 minutes wholly devoted to classic funk and R&B, a disc dripping with tight, percolating grooves, frenetic bass and synth lines and the kind of hard-hitting horn arrangements you’d expect from Tower of Power.

In that way it is stylistically a significant departure from the band’s previous releases Fortified (2015) and Swagism (2018), which drew more influence from jazz, electronica, hip-hop and the seductive rhythms of West Africa, Brazil and Cuba.

Given the sweet rhythm guitar, “fatback” drums, call-and-answer brass and vocalist Mackenzie urging all to to “get on the good foot” you don’t need to spy the title of the opening track to figure out that JB’s Out is a salute to James Brown. It’s also a track that typifies and suitably sets up the rest of this quick-firing record: unadulterated funk flipped up by a virtuosic outfit audibly au fait in every era and avenue of the genre.

Breezy with flute, light congas and a synth line reminiscent of Roy Ayers’ Everybody Loves the Sunshine, Move With a Purpose plays with real swagger, before changing gear and revving towards Where’s Danny, a fast-paced trombone feature for Danny Wytanis that gives Fred Wesley a run for his money.

Given the overall vibe, and the fact that one-time Prince bassist MoonNeon is a long-standing member of this impressive outfit, there’s no surprise that there’s plenty of Prince-influenced jams here, most notably Phatbacc, Bad Knees and Origins. The latter is a sax-heavy tune that brings to mind a real vibe of Madhouse, the jazz-inspired band the purple one masterminded in the 1980s.

Elsewhere on this enthralling LP, we hear Searlight sharing vocal duties with Dominique Xavier Taplin over some screamy rock guitar from Eric Gales during Grandma’s Curtains, a funky country pedal-steel solo cutting up a highly energetic Revival Island, and Marcus Miller’s distinctive slap-and-pop bass through Yellow Dan. All in all, Mustard n’ Onions is something you’re sure to slap on your stereo this summer, not just your hotdog.

JB’s Out! (Do It Babay); Move With A Purpose; Where’s Danny; Origins; PoundCake; Phatbacc; Grandma’s Curtains; Revival Island; Yellow Dan; Bad Knees; Synesthesia; Slim Goodie; Mustard n’ Onions; Origins Reprise; Nard’s Right (79.00)
Robert Sput Searlight (d, kyb); Nate Werth (pc); MoonNeon (b, g); Marcus Miller (b); Peter Knudsen (g); Domonique Xavier Taplin, Vaughn ‘VKeys’ Henry (kyb); Sylvester ‘Sly5thave’ Onyejiaka (bar, ts); Mike Jelani Brooks (ts); Jonathan Mones (as, f); Danny Wytanis (tb) plus various strings. 206 Studios, Van Nuys, Los Angeles, CA, July 2019 – January 2020.
Artistry Music ART7085