Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"I thought Art Good was nuts. There, on the Sunday morning lineup of the 2001 JazzTrax Catalina Island Festival was this band, "Action Figure Party."
"Action Figure Party?!"
The band consists of twentysomething musicians from bands like "Garbage," "Buck Cherry," "Incubus," and "Beck." One of the musicians' names is "Flea." Another goes by "Yogi," and a third, with the more-promising sounding name of Sean Lennon, plays ... umm ... turntable??
While some of my friends quietly decided that maybe they had something else to do on the island, and I started to think the same thing, all of the sudden I began to think to myself: "Well, maybe I'm reacting like Ed Sullivan did when he encountered this new band called the 'Beatles.' Maybe I should keep my mind open and just listento what these guys have to play." And man, I'm glad that I did.
I even went down before the set was through to buy a copy of their CD, even though they did not have a copy available for preview listening, and to be the second person in line to get the entire band to sign it. I'm glad I did that, too because I think they sold out.
Action Figure Party's sound is different, but refreshingly so. Some of their music has strong references to hip-hop sounds ... there is a singer, and real lyrics, and some of those lyrics are spoken through a vocoder. Underneath that "techno" delivery there is some very strong piano-playing by keyboardist Greg Kurstin, and it's definitely jazzed. This man has spent a lot of time listening to Dave Brubeck and other strong players. He has obviously spent a lot of time working through classical music too. The album has 17(!) musicians playing on the various tracks, and these cats know their chops.
In other words, this is jazz .. and more .. delivered with strong references to past players and styles without being limited to it. You don't know what to expect, but you'll like what you hear.
We're going to hear more from this band, and particularly from Greg Kurstin as a performer, songwriter, and arranger. I'm certainly glad that the misguided record company executive who wanted to stuff this album into the "Alternative Music" category, there to be forgotten, was not able to limit their exposure. The music got out ... and it's good." -AllAboutJazz
Action Figure Party: Greg Kurstin (vocals, guitar, Fender Rhodes & Wurlitzer electric pianos, Clavinet, Hammond B-3 Panther organs, ARP & Moog synthesizers, samples); Yogi (guitar); David Ralicke (saxophone, trombone); Gabrial McNair (trombone); Pamelia Kurstin (Theremin, bass); Flea, Daniel Shulman, Fima Ephron, Mike Elizondo (bass); Yuval Gabay (drums, tambourine); Gary Novak, Jose Pasillas, Brian Reitzell, John Molo (drums); Sean Lennon (turntables); Miho Hatori (background vocals).
Personnel: Greg Kurstin (vocals, guitar, piano, celesta, electric piano, organ, synthesizer, Moog synthesizer, drums); Yogi (guitar); David Ralicke (saxophone, trombone); Yuval Gabay (drums, tambourine); Gary Novak, Brian Reitzell (drums); John Molo (percussion); Pamelia Kurstin (Theremin); Sean Lennon (turntables); Miho Hatori (background vocals).
Recording information: Bay 7, Los Angeles, CA; Kung Fu Sound, Los Angeles, CA; Lafx, Los Angeles, CA; Mad Hatter Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Sear Sound, NY; The Tree House, NY; X-Ray Heaphone Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Jazz and rock hit it off just right on Greg Kurstin's self-titled debut for the Verve label, Action Figure Party. The keyboardist brings together a diverse group of rock musicians including Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sean Lennon on turntables, Gabrial McNair of No Doubt, and Gary Novak, who has played with Alanis Morrissette and Chick Corea. All songs were written by Greg Kurstin except one, which was written by his wife and co-performer, Pamelia Kurstin. Action Figure Party opens with "Everybody Ready," setting the party atmosphere with a radio-friendly track that's still true to the jam-band idiom. Elements of jazz are introduced by way of Kurstin's Moog and electric piano work on "Pong Baby," a freewheeling mix of rock and jazz. "Flow," spotlights Kurstin's improvisational skills on acoustic piano that create a visual mood with pat but not overly familiar soloing. Flea fills in the basslines with his eclecticism, making this song happen while drummer Gary Novak provides additional rhythmic charisma with his accessible performance. Together their energy is electric, but still down to earth enough for jazz radio. On "No Sleep" Kurstin is playing great and so is Yogi on guitar with the wah-wah working just right. Kurstin's special guests, with origins in both rock and jazz, make this ensemble of musicians one of the better jam bands in recent years. Action Figure Party is a likely inheritor of that crowd since the featured ensemble incorporates a lot of their licks but still haven't made this just a record for lovers of the jam-band scene. ~ Paula Edelstein