Rich Willey’s Boptism Funk Band
Artist: Rich Willey’s Boptism Funk Band
Label: Wise Cat
Release Date: 10.4.2019
Trumpeter and composer Rich Willey has been busy lately. Just a few months ago, he issued his big band album Down & Dirty, and now follows that up with this ten piece ensemble, his newly assembled funk band. Willey has been using the name “Boptism” since 1986, so you’ll find it gracing all his projects. This is highly accessible jazz that lies somewhere between hard bop, soul-jazz, and dare we say, smooth jazz. In many cases Willey had never recorded with these players, had a short window to record in and laid down the basic tracks usually in one take, live in the studio, before later adding in more horn parts.
From the titles, it’s easy to see that this was more about having some fun than anything else. Consider “Mister Magoo.” “Goofin’ Off,” “Blessed Are the Hip,” Nude Eel” and “Eenie Meanie Beanie Weeny” as just some examples. Willey composed all tunes, specifically written for what he conceived as a funk band. The personnel came together primarily through meetings at summer jazz camps and discussions that kept turning up other names. Mostly Willey loved the sound of Bobby Floyd’s Hammond B3 organ and missed playing in that kind of setting since his time in Philadelphia in the ‘90s. Stryker plays often in organ-based units, so he was a natural fit. The original idea was to have Willey on trumpet and bass trumpet (sounds more like a trombone) and John Swana on EVI (and maybe trumpet, although he ends up on trombone and EVI), Dave Stryker on guitar, Bobby Floyd on B3, Mike Boone on the five-string electric bass and Byron Landham on drums. Then a couple of folks from the big band project became interested, namely trumpeter Dan Fornero and producer Wally Minko who also plays Fender Rhodes and synthesizer. Two additional horn players, Tom Evans (multiple reeds) and David Mann (tenor and soprano sax) later joined the project.
The liner notes provide all kinds of details about how this project came together and among the most interesting are that Willey conceded the first and second trumpet spots to Fornero, who he obviously highly regards, and Willey takes his first cameo vocal on any album on “Eenie Meanie Beanie Weeny.” The back of the album jacket lists the soloists which is also helpful. Given the project’s original intentions, the tunes that prominently feature Floyd have the most appeal. They are “Clip Clop Mogul,” “Adrenaline Rush” (which also features great guitar from Stryker, one of the best in soul jazz today), “Nude Eel,” “Eenie Meanie Beanie Weeny” and the closer, a real showcase for Floyd, clearly one of the most outstanding players in the unit, for “Blues for Bobby.”
Willey resides in western North Carolina and has a long history of playing in a U.S. Army division band, several years in Philly’s jazz clubs as well as Atlantic City and northern New Jersey. As mentioned, he began to call his band Boptism in New Jersey and New York in 1986. He returned to college from 1995 through 2001 and holds both a bachelors and a master’s degree, which he leveraged into being an educator at several colleges in the Carolinas. His Boptism Music is a publishing company that distributes material he wrote while teaching as well as his arrangements and compositions. Willey continues to compose music, write books, and practice his trumpet and obviously serve as a bandleader, having learned from stints in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and with Maynard Ferguson.
The music on Conspiracy flows easily, is danceable, and is highly melodic. It could use a little more edge in places and (to borrow the title from his big band project), get down and dirty a little more often, but overall has some very good moments.