“Open Sesame,” the first track on Water Seed’s fifth album, isn’t the Kool & the Gang club hit from the early Seventies, but that’s not for lack of trying: The extremely jazzy funk of Kool’s first incarnation is an intricate part of this band’s musical makeup, airbrushed just a bit with the professional positivity of classic Earth, Wind & Fire and with just a touch of Prince’s famed Minneapolis sound in some squiggly synth lines. This is the kind of band that does a scat-only instrumental called “Duke’ish” and makes it a homage to keyboardist George, not pianist Ellington (at least, that’s what it sounds like). There are some gospel touches here and there, but the jazzy funk underscores everything they do. It’s sort of their roots music.
This cadre of Xavier students considered themselves songwriters first and foremost when they formed, and it’s only helped them bring their blend into sharper focus in the time they’ve been in exile post-Katrina. Now that they’re back from Atlanta with a whole lot of roadwork under their belt, it feels like they’re trying to go next-level: They may even have come up with a potential hit with “Work It Out,” which is both light and retro enough to get some of that Bruno Mars shine on it. Constantly upbeat, improvisational only within a rigid groove and structure, Water Seed is a big funk party band with a purpose. The goofy comic relief streak of Sly and the Family Stone feels a little too self-consciously cute on tracks like “I Forgot to Have Fun Today” and the otherwise heartfelt “Messed Up,” but that’s a minor flaw next to the staccato horn workout of “Brand New Day” or the rave-up of “We Gon’ Get It Right.” It devolves into pure fusion halfway through, as if to free your ass first and your mind later. Some Seventies lessons bear revising.