Seattle’s High Pulp Brilliantly Revs Up Funk, R&B & Jazz – Music
High Pulp is big in size and about to go big with its latest release.
OOne of Seattle’s biggest bands, in terms of personnel, is poised to go big in a different way, if current trends continue. With frequent shows around town and a recent live appearance on KEXP, High Pulp is gaining momentum, which is set to culminate with their record-breaking release show on March 7 at Neumos.
The countless members of High Pulp intertwine with flippant precision to create a nuanced amalgamation of funk, jazz-fusion and R&B. In local terms, you might consider High Pulp to be the slightly smaller, more understated sibling of Eldridge Gravy & the Court Supreme. Their music might be more suited to the after-party and seductions you exploit after the after-party than the party itself. But High Pulp can also rock a dance club. Check out “Midnight Bistro,” a sleek, nocturnal electro-funk number that sounds like Mandré and Grover Washington Jr. improvising in a wine-serving planetarium, and the spasmodic action-scene funk of “Juiced.”
Four or five years ago, High Pulp was born out of the informal Friday night jams in the Greenwood basement of drummer Rob Granfelt (who also plays in the excellent neo-trip-hop unit sunking). The core of the group now includes Antoine Martel (synths), Rob Homan (keyboards), Andrew Morrill (alto sax), Victory Nguyen (tenor sax), Scott Rixon (bass) and Gehrig Uhles (guitar). With 2019 Light correction EP, High Pulp added the polished vocals of JusMoni, Shaina Shepherd and Falon Sierra, which add sparkle to the mellow luxury of R&B ballads. Their contributions help Light correction exude a shag rug seduction.
In stark contrast to this aesthetic, High Pulp recently tackled three spiritual jazz classics for the Mutual Attraction Vol. 1 PE. It’s the start of a series in which the band pays homage to its formative influences. The initial edition includes covers of works by Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra. High Pulp treats these heady works with confidence, subtly reinterpreting the touchstones of avant-garde black expression. Talk about setting an intimidating bar for yourself…but High Pulp handles the high-flying act with aplomb.
While the freer end of the jazz spectrum is the music that binds the members of High Pulp the most, they also love the music of Miles Davis. Birth of cool LP and Duke Ellington big band material. In addition, they are inspired by, among others, Shabazz Palaces, Jonny Greenwood, Flying Lotus, Frank Ocean, Hans Zimmer and Yes.
High Pulp honed their skills for their next record during a year-plus residency at the Royal Room (where Granfelt works in social media). Every Wednesday evening, for a few hours, they would play tunes and improvise, forming the ideas that would become finished songs. “There’s a really fervent creative energy in the band,” Granfelt said in an email interview. “It allows us to keep coming back to the drawing board, over and over again, until we settle on something that anyone can sign off on.”
With so many people in High Pulp, it must make for an interesting and possibly convoluted creative process. Do chance and spontaneity play a role? “It’s spontaneity and happenstance,” Granfelt said. “Songs can come from any angle, at any time. Sometimes things are organic; for example, we can sit down at a rehearsal or a concert, and someone will start messing around, and I’ll say, ‘Keep playing that!’ and record a voice memo that I’ll revisit months later and present as an idea to build on. Other times one of our members may come to rehearsal with a complete idea he had for a track with multiple sections and we go from there.
“In any case, we write as a unit. It doesn’t matter where the idea starts, but in the end it will have passed through all of our ears and will get our cosign. Once everyone agrees that something thing is done, then it is done. Until then, we keep searching.
After being a strictly instrumental proposition for years, High Pulp decided to bring in vocalists last year “to push us in a new way. Just to hit the discomfort, a challenge,” Granfelt explained. “Collaboration is a real core part of High Pulp’s identity. We see ourselves as a collective. We’ve played with over 20 different musicians over the years, whether live or in the studio, so it was natural to bring singers into the fold.
“It was an opportunity to play less, leave more space and be super intentional as a writing unit. We all take inspiration from those Soulquarians releases in the early 2000s, with Erykah Badu , D’Angelo, the Roots, Common… We wanted to see what would happen if we took a step in that direction and tried to get into that headspace.”