The M-Tet “Total Nonstop Action!” LP
Growth is a slippery slope for musicians. Once you’ve become established for a sound and style, the expectation to adhere to what put you where you are looms overhead at every writing session, rehearsal and show. Purists for Meters-style funk would probably scoff at a band suddenly rolling out Yamaha DX-7s and double neck guitars, no matter how stank the groove. But then there’s the musician’s inner itch for exploration, experimentation and expansion that keeps the process that much more exciting at a time where most of us won’t reach higher tax brackets through music. The incentive to keep going is growth. But perhaps the most difficult feat is straddling the line - to grow and build upon a trademark sound while managing to not alienate a core audience. Bay Area funk quartet, The M-Tet, manage to pull off the ever elusive option C on their sophomore long-player, Total NonStop Action.
Lead single “Gotta Be With You” kicks off the affair, and after an opening drum break from Michael Reed - who was gracious enough to let me use his vintage Ludwig set on a recent gig I played with Ben Pirani’s band and The M-Tet in Oakland - it’s evident that The M-Tet has already expanded upon the late ‘60s-era Booker T/Meters influence of their debut LP. The melodies are more polished and the production more elaborate, but without losing the grease. “You Should See The Other Guy,” my personal favorite track on the album, incorporates a mean, driving shuffle, while Joe Baer Magnant’s driving guitar tone and Gary Pitman’s hair-raising chords evoke some of the grittier early ‘70s blues-rock in only a hair above two minutes. Speaking of blues, “That Old Hammond Organ” introduces a slinky 12/8 groove ripe for a soul soliloquy with Pitman conducting the sermon. “What’s Left To Give” gives us sweetness with groove, while “Pinch Hitter” brings the horns - in particular the big baritone sax - to the party for a hip-shaking nod to the world of Dyke & The Blazers and a look at the band’s wide range of soul influences.
Fans of The M-Tet’s debut (2017’s Long Play) need not fret over the more varied terrain, though. They cover the reliable bread and butter funk with syncopated, Hammond and guitar-driven nuggets like “Katrin’s Deli” and let Reed flex on the kit with the nasty second single, “Ray Ban, Pt. 2” - ripe with beautifully nerve-pinching guitar Sound F/X recorded live to tape. But “VAMP, Oakland” manages to merge ol’ reliable with something new: The M-Tet’s trademark quartet funk with layers of percussion, courtesy of Jungle Fire/Sure Fire Soul Ensemble’s own Steve Haney.
Regardless of the variations in style, groove and mojo, the driving force of the rhythm section is the glue that gives the virtuosity of Magnant and Pitman a nice canvas to throw down. Bassist Chris Lujan drives the bus, tastefully flexing when it fits but never intruding on the groove, while Reed’s right foot and left hand have a discussion that greasily (is that a word?) stitches it all together.
Overall, Total NonStop Action is just that - a relentless ride through funk and soul that ebbs and flows though different influences, but never slows down. And an example of staying true to an overall aesthetic without being a facsimile.
- Jay Mumford (aka “J-Zone”) of The Du-Rites