An accomplished fingerstyle guitar player, who has played in a myriad of settings over the past 30 years, Adam Stark has found a solid niche with the band Twist. This Los Angeles based funk band, whose core includes the legendary drummers James Gadson, Alvino Bennett and veteran bassist Gerald Johnson, is steeped in the soulful tradition of such ‘70s groove masters as The Meters, Stuff and The Crusaders. Twist offers a new slant on an old school approach with their auspicious debut “Cool Drink With The Ladies”.
Recorded in old school fashion, with the rhythm section tracking live and utilizing all analog recording gear, “Cool Drink With The Ladies” is something of a throwback in this digital age of multiple overdubs and computers. “None of the guitar tracks are overdubbed, it’s all live single takes,” says Stark. “The organ and keyboard parts were added later but the foundation of the tune is just the rhythm section playing together live.”
While the Stuff influence may be pronounced on “Julian’s Dream,” “Then You Know” and “Bang Bang,” a funky Meters influence can be heard on the earthy closer, “Double Chaklit.” Some jazzier influences are apparent in more harmonically involved tunes like “Curly” and the title track. Both tunes feature some tasty melodic guitar work from Stark. “I like playing fingerstyle chord melodies” he says. “I love Lenny Breau, and while I’ll never play like him he has been a big influence on me. I’ve always tried to maintain my own unique voice on the instrument.”
Special guests on this funk-laden project include keyboardist Jeff Babko (currently in the house band of tv’s “The Jimmy Kimmel Show”), organist Mike Finnigan (who gained ‘60s fame by playing on Jimi Hendrix’s magnum opus, Electric Ladyland), drummer Alvino Bennett (a member of Dave Mason’s current touring band), and in-demand pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz (who has appeared on recordings by Bill Frisell, Dave Alvin, Tracy Chapman, Beck, Wilco, Lucinda Williams, Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang, Sheryl Crow and recent Grammy winners Robert Plant and Alison Krauss).
Though guitar has been a primary love of Stark’s since picking up the instrument at age eight, he has actually made his living outside of the music industry. For the past 18 years he has been a featured digital artist, specializing in lighting, compositing and color mastering, on many movies including Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney’s Dinosaur, Apollo 13, and Interview with a Vampire. In 1995, he started a long association with Walt Disney Feature Animation where he most recently worked as a digital colorist on Disney’s Meet the Robinsons.
“While I have been making my living working on movies, I’ve also been playing the guitar forever,” says Stark, who studied with such jazz guitar gurus as Bill Connors, Larry Coryell and Ted Greene. “It’s always been a main focus and I’ve never stopped playing.” After settling in Los Angeles in 1993, Stark began playing in fusion settings. He eventually landed a steady Tuesday night gig at The Baked Potato, the renowned jazz club in Studio City. ”We were doing R&B-blues covers there, but I had always been writing tunes and playing my own thing, so I was really more interested in doing original material. Then at one of our rehearsals we just started messing around with ideas and ended up writing four tunes on the spot. And at that point it was obvious that we had something special together.”
It was Gerald Johnson who came up with the slogan “new slant on an old twist,” which led to the name of this groove-oriented ensemble. Legendary drummer James Gadson has garnered years of experience on the bandstand and in the studios with a seemingly never-ending list of artists in jazz (Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Les McCann, John Handy, Sonny Criss, Gary Bartz, Stanley Turrentine, Ramsey Lewis, Benny Golson, Pharoah Sanders), R&B (Ray Charles, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Minnie Ripperton, The Whispers, Bill Withers, The Jackson Five, Diana Ross, Gloria Gaynor, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Solomon Burke, The Temptations, Jerry Butler, Smokey Robinson, The Gap Band, The Pointer Sisters, Billy Preston, Labelle, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band) and pop (Paul McCartney, Donald Fagen, Joe Cocker, Beck, Justin Timberlake, Boz Scaggs, Aaron Neville, Donna Summers, Phoebe Snow, Amos Lee and Tina Turner). Bassist Gerald Johnson has logged countless hours since the ‘70s grooving the bandstands of Dave Mason, Stephen Stills and Steve Miller. Adam Stark had his own brief encounter with pocket funk playing during his New York tenure as a member of Gordon Edwards’ Stuff II band. “They were doing some of my tunes when we gigged at Kenny’s Castaways,” he recalls. “In fact, a couple of the tunes that I wrote for Gordon’s band back then ended up on this new record.”
The infectious opener “Then You Know” features some infectious reggae-styled comping by Stark and includes a vocal hook line sung by Gadson and Johnson, Johnson also provides the Barry White-like vocal presence on the mellow and soulful “Oh Baby.” Pedal steel ace Leisz adds to the atmospheric vibe of the delicate 3/4 ballad “Memories of Home,” which is also underscored by Babko’s distinctive Rhodes electric piano work. ”Julian’s Dream,”and Stark’s other composition, which he resurrected from his days at Kenny’s Castaways,“It Is What It Is” carry on the same old school feeling. B-3 burner Finnigan wails with abandon on “Double Chaklit” and provides a funky cushion on the soulful groovers “Julian’s Dream,” “Bang Bang” and the Metersesque “It Is What It Is.” Stark, who exercises exquisite restraint throughout “Cool Drink With The Ladies”, also gets off one screaming blues-inflected solo on the funky “I Can’t Remember.”
Stark says “I love the groove stuff, and what you hear on this record is the appropriate music to play with these guys who are all so unbelievably deep into groove playing. Basically it’s our own updated version of a classic style. Traditionally I might use overdrive tones and effects pedals, but with these guys, and this sound we were going for, it was all I could do to just play the tunes and have the groove be the main thing. The statement of the whole album is more important than how many notes I played or how much distortion I used. This is a funk record but it’s not what most people think funk is these days, especially guitar players. This is an attempt at classic Atlantic Records style funk, or what Jerry Wexler called ‘immaculate funk.’ It’s just all about the groove. It’s subverting your personal thing for the groove.
By serving the tune while celebrating the groove, Stark is reaching beyond the inner circle of guitar aficionados with Twist. And he scores a goodfoot triumph with the eminently funky “Cool Drink With The Ladies”. “It was written, produced and recorded the way records were done in the ‘60s and are supposed to be done for this style of music,” says Stark. “It’s not a shredding record, it’s not a guitar record, it’s not an Adam Stark record. It’s a “Twist” record. It’s a document of the music that I made on this day with these guys. And it’s all about the groove.”