Over the past few years, saxophonist Khris Royal has emerged as one of the most exciting up-and-coming musicians on the New Orleans music scene. He’s one of George Porter, Jr.’s Runnin’ Pardners, and his own funk-fusion outfit, Dark Matter, has been busy establishing itself as one of the city’s most incendiary live acts. On the band’s debut album, Dark Matter, they infuse soul into space funk and jazz into bump-and-grind.
No strangers to stretching jams, shaking booties, or shedding into another dimension, the talented ensemble of Danny Abel (guitar), Kyle Roussel (keys), DJ Raymond (bass), and Terrence Houston (drums) match their captain’s imagination and ambition. Royal, the mastermind behind Dark Matter’s far-reaching endeavors and exotic sound, sets the trajectory. He wrote each of the album’s 11 cuts and played six different instruments. He also covered half of the production duties.
The only thing more palpable than Royal’s prowess on Dark Matter is his passion. An adventurous player with an unyielding spirit, Royal’s most ear-catching attribute is his ability to forge an emotional connection to the music without weighing down the rhythm or overpowering the groove. Early on, his fierce licks and soulful flourishes fuel the fiery “Whyuwanna.” Similarly, his shimmering solos pace the super funky “Foley.” When venerated saxman Donald Harrison steps into the smooth ride of “Big Booty Express,” Royal engages the legend’s urban swing with a shot of street bop. Likewise, he wastes no time revving up the uptown roller “Chicken Dance” before Big Sam caps it off with a hearty trombone solo.
Royal’s use of the EWI, essentially an electronic saxophone, is arguably the album’s most intriguing facet. In addition to shading the spectral hues of the set standout “Kendrick’s World,” its chilling electronic timbre adds a mysterious air to the ominous title track. Though more of an afterthought, the odd closer “Party Starter,” which features Royal on vocoder and verses from emcees M@ Peoples and TheSekondElement, doesn’t necessarily fit the album’s tone. No matter; when not meandering into jamland or reaching for a bridge too far, Khris Royal and Dark Matter possess an inventive sound that often blends the liveliness of vintage-era Grover Washington, Jr. with the dense funk aesthetic of early ‘80s Zapp.