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All That and a Whole Lot More : All That "Datz Phat" Groove Entertainment (***)

August 27, 1996|MIKE BOEHM

This 10-man, jazz-funk ensemble starts its debut album as if its reason in life is to provide a soundtrack for dancing and partying. That's no small calling, but as "Datz Phat" progresses, it becomes clear that All That is aiming for more than just that. The O.C.-based ensemble goes beyond being a reliable groove machine; it tests its ability to come up with compositions and arrangements that have staying power and work as listening experiences in their own right.

All That comes through with good marks by drawing on a wide range of sources and, on the best of its tunes, displaying a strong knack for the good, memorable hooks that separate utilitarian dance-floor music from records that a listener will want to go back to even when there's no party going down.

Most of the music is composed by Kirk Tracy, formerly the saxophonist of the R&B-tinged local alternative-rock band Soul Scream, and bassist John Hipolito. The less ambitious numbers are straightforward, horn-driven funk, reminiscent of Tower of Power (for whom All That will open at the Coach House on Sept. 6). But the peak cuts turn into stylistic hybrids that bring salsa and swing, bop soloing and Santana-style Latin-blues into the mix.

All That isn't shy about acknowledging its heroes: Song titles include "Mr. Picket" (in misspelled homage to Tower of Power alumnus Lenny Pickett), "Wes and Carlos" (after guitar heroes Montgomery and Santana), "J.B." (James Brown) and even "Elvis," a fun number that has nothing in common with the King's style but goes for some Presleyan fanny-shaking in its tight, swiveling groove.

All That's composing and arranging skills pay off on peak cuts that use well-wrought riffs as anchors and touchstones for expansive soloing and stylistic jumps. "Zoot Suit," primarily a salsa- and Santana-inspired workout, has a raunchy-swing refrain. In "Wes and Carlos," the refrain uses fluttering saxophones over a cool electric piano phrase; the 10-minute piece ranges widely and succeeds completely.

The players are excellent throughout. Tenor saxophonist Tracy and alto player Joe Castro lead the five-member horn section. Keyboards player Vic "Swamp Baby" Zahn comes up with cool, coursing passages that provide contrast to the horns' bright dynamics, or deploys clavinet sounds to underpin the funk. Bassist Hipolito is first-rate, playing with a rich, crisp tone; guitarist Bubba (just Bubba) is unselfish and versatile, and the drums-percussion team is strong in a prominent role.

Several players get short solo pieces that serve as interludes between the main tracks; all are good, especially percussionist Vince Brooks' departure into spacey, zephyr-like mood-weaving. On an album with no ballads, one wishes that Tracy could have expanded on his brief, sentimental theme, "Song for Suzette."

The recording quality is clean and punchy, making vibrant use of those hospitable audio surroundings on an album that's more than just a party.

(Available from All That, 22032 Balboa Circle, Huntington Beach CA 92646; (714) 520-8988).

* All That opens for Tower of Power on Sept. 6 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $22.50-$24.50. (714) 496-8930.

*

Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.

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