Blindfold Test: Tower of Power’s Emilio Castillo & David Garibaldi

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Emilio Castillo and David Garibaldi

(Photo: Bob Shanahan)

Tower of Power is as much an institution and brand as a band. The title of the horn-driven ensemble’s debut album, 1970’s East Bay Grease, has also been a description of the group’s sound — a blend of funk and r&b, rock and soul, with some jazz accents for good measure. Co-founder and tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo established Tower of Power in Oakland, where ToP’s most recent album, 50 Years Of Funk & Soul: Live At The Fox Theater (Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group, 2021), was recorded in 2018. When Castillo and longtime drummer David Garibaldi took their first Blindfold Test via video chat, the pair reminisced frequently as they were presented with some West Coast-heavy selections.

James Brown/Louie Bellson Orchestra: “September Song” (Soul On Top, Verve, 2004 reissue/King Records, 1970) Brown, vocals; Pete Christlieb, Buddy Collette, Maceo Parker Jr., saxophones; Bill Pitman, Louis Shelton, guitar; Frank Vincent, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Bellson, drums; Jack Arnold, percussion.

Garibaldi: What a surprise! It sounds like Clyde Stubblefield on drums.
Castillo: [afterwards] OK, I know he did an album with a big band. I’m a vocalist guy, and I think one of my favorite things is to listen to James Brown sing ballads. And this is kind of like that in that he’s doing one of those old-timey kind of songs.

Garibaldi: Of course, I’m giving James a 5 for effort on that one. There are some things on it that I didn’t think maybe fit well together. But, I mean, come on, that’s really, really cool!
Castillo: I was going to give him a 5. And then I thought, I can’t give him a 5. I’ve got to him 100. But then I rethought it. I would give him a million.

Garibaldi: If 5 isn’t going to be the limit, let’s give him 2 million.

Phil Collins: “Pick Up The Pieces” (A Hot Night In Paris, Atlantic, 1999) Collins, drums; Harry Kim, musical director, trumpet, flugelhorn; Gerald Albright, alto saxophone solo; James Carter, tenor saxophone solo; Darryl Stuermer, guitar; George Duke, piano solo; Doug Richeson, bass; Luis Conte, percussion.

Garibaldi: I thought it was the WDR Big Band, but I’m not so sure.
Castillo: I seem to remember a version of the Average White Band song “Pick Up The Pieces” done by the Montreux Big Band. I thought the alto solo might be Candy Dulfer. The tenor player, I have no idea who he is, but he played some of the ugliest stuff I ever heard that works so well. His facility was just off the chart, and on some of those notes you’re hearing these polyphonic tones — just awesome.

Castillo: Gerald Alright? He’s one of my favorites.

Herbie Hancock: “Chameleon” (Flood, Sony Records, 1997 reissue/CBS/Sony, 1975) Hancock, piano, Fender Rhodes, Hohner D-6, ARP synthesizers; Bennie Maupin, tenor saxophone, percussion; Blackbird McKnight, guitar; Paul Jackson, bass guitar; Mike Clark, drums; Bill Summers, congas, percussion.

Castillo: Who was that? [afterwards] Wow. I never would’ve thought that was Herbie’s version. I guess they updated it for live.
Garibaldi: Was that Mike and Paul?

Castillo: We used to play with them all the time.
Garibaldi: Mike was, I think, one of the very first guys I met after I got out of the military, him and Paul. So I’m going to give Mike and Paul big points on that one. The late Paul Jackson, he was just a fabulous musician. And Mike, he’s still one of my really great friends.

Castillo: Mike Clark was the star. It was all about the drums for me.

SFJAZZ Collective: “Sing A Simple Song” (Live: SFJAZZ Center 2019, SFJAZZ Records, 2020) Martin Luther McCoy, vocals; Etienne Charles, trumpet, percussion, arranging; David Sánchez, tenor saxophone; Adam Rogers, electric guitar; Warren Wolf, vibraphone; Edward Simon, piano, keyboards; Matt Brewer, bass guitar; Obed Calvaire, drums.

Castillo: Is that Roy Ayers?
Garibaldi: SFJAZZ, right? I know they did a Sly Stone tribute over there. Is that Obed Calvaire playing drums? He’s a great player, man. SFJAZZ — they do a really cool thing with all the composers and all that. It’s pretty slick. So, yeah, they get a bunch of points on that one, too.

Castillo: I used to watch Sly & The Family Stone every weekend when I was 16, 17 years old. He played right near my house at Frenchy’s, a really well-known nightclub in Hayward. We were underage and used to sneak in. And then we played gigs with him over the years, as well.

Ozomatli: “Super Bowl Sundae” (Ozomatli, Almo Sounds, 1998) Chali 2na, rap vocals; Paul Livingston, nine-string fretless guitar; Raúl Pacheco, guitar, vocals; Asdru Sierra, trumpet, vocals; David Ralicke, trombone, baritone saxophone; Ulises Bella, saxophones, clarinets, guitar, vocals; Jose Espinoza, alto saxophone; Wil Dog Abers, bass guitar, vocals; William Marrufo, drums; Jiro Yamaguchi, tabla, percussion; Justin “Niño” Porée, percussion; Cut Chemist, turntables.

Castillo: I’m assuming it’s Ozomatli, since he said “Ozomatli” a couple of times. My first thought is, “Where would all of us be if it wasn’t for James Brown?” I mean, how many grooves, how many bands live and have earned money off of that Ozomatli also has a really good live vibe.
Garibaldi: I dug the mix of everything, the vibe of mixing styles together.

Castillo: And the other thing is I’m not a rap aficionado. But that guy, the way he raps, it was in the pocket. I don’t like rap that’s pasted on. It just goes against everything in my grain. But when I hear rap right in the pocket — Busta Rhymes is good at that — I like that much better.

Marcus Miller: “What Is Hip?” (Marcus, 3 Deuces Records/Concord Jazz, 2008) Miller, bass guitar, clarinets, organ, tambourines; David Sanborn, alto saxophone; Chester Thompson, organ; Poogie Bell, drums.

Castillo: Well, that’s our tune, “What Is Hip?” And isn’t that David Sanborn’s version? I was just wondering if it was Ricky Peterson on organ.
Garibaldi: That’s Marcus, right? Is that Poogie Bell playing drums?

Castillo: We played gigs with Marcus in Europe. Great guy — really down-to-earth cat. DB



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