Cory Wong was perhaps the most prolific music of 2020, making full use of the pandemic to push out eight albums, and now opens 2021 with a fantastic big-band album. Cory is of course one of the touring non-members of Vulfpeck and also has a regular touring schedule with his own band. On the last several dates that I’ve seen his band, it has been accompanied by a three piece horn section so this album is a natural extension. The Wongnotes this time feature a six piece horn section for a full on funky assault.
The album was recorded live, in-person under a safe setting as the backdrop to Cory’s own variety show now available on YouTube and featuring interviews, comedy and live bands. Aside from the show which is amusing in its own rite, this album will knock your socks off. Check it out on Spotify and read my track-by-track take –
Cory and the Wongnotes – Every great variety show needs an opening theme and this one is a fine intro indeed.
Merci – We can only give thanks for this terrific low end tune with bass guitar and bari sax highlights from Sam Greenfield, most recently heard on the Lotus album, Swim. Cory’s jing-a-ling strumming and intercepts are precise as ever and trading between instruments is terrific.
Heist – This one starts with a jazzy-smooth bass and percussion intro with the horns coming in like a well oiled machine. A highlight is Kenni Holmen’s flute soloing harkening back to Herbie Mann and the Family of Mann days.
Tiki Hut Strut – THS has a very “Squib Cakes” drum intro. The main melody starts with Cory and Kenni again on flute. The horn line here is so rock solid and is terrific accompaniment for Cory. Michael Nelson has an extended Fred Wesley sounding solo in the second half, so funky. This one really swings big band style.
Coming Back Around – A heralding horn open starts this pop-dance tune and features Cody Fry on vocals. He’s got such a great sound and this one one is straight out of the ’80s. The lineup is a little shuffled here with Coryn on bass and Sonny on guitar. Cory and Petar Janjic on drums makes for a great rhythm section. The horn bridge is slick and leads into a blistering Cody guitar solo. This should definitely get some airplay rolling forward. It closes with the same horn section as the start.
Starfire – Cory starts with a short intro, then sections into some bass horns and trumpets playing off each other. The bass, drum and triangle backbeat is definitely movement inducing with some of the best horn lines in recent memory.
United – Antwaun Stanley, a Vulfpeck running mate, guest sings on this anthemic song about united people of all types all around the world. This one is another well composed and very cool tune. Antwaun sounds silky smooth and easily handles singing with a huge sound behind him.
Headin’ Down To Bunkers – I can’t help but hearing ‘Living for the City’ as the opening for this but it segues pretty quickly into a guitar section with Cory in the lead slot. But for some reason, it brings to mind ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’ another Stevie Wonder tune. Is it real or am I imagining based on the last tune being Stevie Wonder Medley. In any case it’s a fun tune and Cory takes a ripping solo midway and by now has firmly entrenched a ‘signature’ sound. There’s another section where Cory is doing some call and response with the trumpet. The end closes with a very funky trumpet solo section to fade.
Lee – The slow rolling bass and horns on this start a very greasy funk tune with Kevin Gastonguay playing some heavy organ as well. It’s very slinky drum roll as Kevin leads us on a little space trip. It’s all organ, bass and drums early on switching to a guitar-horn lead near the midpoint. There’s a heavy pedal-effected sax solo after that sounding like a human voice that continues with the full band coming back sounding so dirty. The low end horns establish a horn beat as the foundation for a very greasy sax solo. The whole band comes back for the end playing as dark and frenetic as imaginable.
Bluebird – Eddie Barbash is featured on sax here and it’s as fast paced as any on the album. The horn section punches in at weight with Cory hyper strumming. Kevin takes a nice New Orleans style solo here as well before Barbash hits with a soprano solo. The band starts on a dime for a Cory bridge before the main melody plays to the ending.
Stevie Wonder Medley – Cory plucks a short intro before the medley featuring only The Hornheads. The tune starts with “Isn’t She Lovely” as a fanfare. There’s a supersonic transport of a sax solo here before rolling into a short “Sir Duke” ending.
⇪⇪ Purchase this bad boy here ⇪⇪
Cory Wong – guitar/bass/vox
Sonny Thompson – bass/guitar/vox
Kevin Gastonguay – keys
Nêgah Santos – percussion
Petar Janjic – drums
Eddie Barbash – alto sax/soprano sax
Kenni Holmen – tenor sax/flute
Sam Greenfield – bari sax/bass clarinet
Steve Strand – trumpet
Jon Lampley – trumpet
Michael Nelson – trombone/horn arranger
Antwaun Stanley – special guest vocalist
Cody Fry – special guest vocalist
Produced by Cory Wong
Mixed by John Fields
Engineered by Jake Hartsfield and Caleb Fisher
Mastered by Will Quinnell