Khris Royal & Dark Matter, “Dark Matter II” (Independent)

khris-royal-dark-matter-iiThis is the sort of album that a major labels would no longer release in a million years: a jazz-funk set that features first-rate players soloing at length for the joy of it. This is very much a player’s album, with most tracks stretching to seven minutes for everyone to get their licks in. But it also grooves like mad, and the high spirits of the sessions carry through to the listener.

Having done a long stint with George Porter Jr.’s Runnin’ Pardners, Royal knows his way around a groove (another longtime Pardner, Terrence Houston, is this album’s secret weapon, both inventive and propulsive throughout). The other surprise here is a ’70s disco influence on two tracks, “Shake It,” and “Make You Dance,” both of which feature Vocoder vocals and a general sense of hedonism. Elsewhere they channel P-Funk’s headier moments, notably on “11:08,” where guest keyboardist Nigel Hall’s synth solo pays a successful Bernie Worrell homage. The other notable guest is Trombone Shorty, who takes a solo on “Insomnia,” a track that makes some tricky rhythmic jumps, though its highlight is Royal’s tenor/alto sax duel with himself. Elsewhere his material proves worth the attention, from the energizing “Step Children,” to the soul ballad “You Don’t Know Me” (though a natural singer would have fit better on this one instead of more Vocoder). It’s hard to tell what “Song for Trayvon” has to do with the murder of Trayvon Martin if that’s the reference, since after an ominous intro it takes a more upbeat turn. But maybe that’s the point, that it’s a soundtrack for carrying on in resistance.