Gone Too Soon – Robert Gast

This is one of the toughest articles I’ve written. Each of the last six Valentine’s Day weekends has been a celebratory event for me, the most joyous weekend of the year. The string starting in 2015 when I attended the recording of Snarky Puppy’s Family Dinner, Volume 2 and there was the release of the album the following year. For four years from 2017 to 2020, I was awash in the great music and vibes at the annual GroundUP Music Festival in Miami Beach among some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

Robert Gast, from Germany, was one of those dear friends. Robert attended so many Snarky Puppy shows in Europe, we joked that he was the ‘Funkmayor’ of Europe. We became ‘pen pals’ through the Snarky Puppy Forum on Facebook, more recently corresponding privately on WhatsApp, and always hung out at the festival. He was a physician by profession but a musician by passion. Each year at the festival he would give me his latest CD and I constantly wanted to review each one but never did. Robert was extremely talented, having written, performed and produced each album solo which belies the quality of the music. Overall the albums follow a development arc and include elements of jazz, fusion, funk and new age.

This weekend would have been the fifth GUMFest together but alas the pandemic squashed that from happening. Tragically, my good friend, Robert, passed away in January, but not before releasing yet another album in December 2020, amazingly titled Epilog 312. Here I am, finally covering all four of Robert’s CDs, all available for streaming on Spotify. I’ll miss you my friend.

Evolon (2016) starts with the title track and you immediately know this will be a funky album. The keyboard work is very spacey, sort of Deodato-like. Robert plays a piano bridge and returns with a more jazz-like beautiful second half. The second track, Jasper, opens sounding a like a cross between Chick Corea and Lyle Mays. It has very sensitive piano and organ intertwining throughout. NeXT Fusion has the sultry feel of a Grover Washington, Jr. without the sax of course, but simulated with some fine electronic keys work.  Seefeld News is more of a contemplative ballad again with some fine overdubbing of multiple keys. I’m presuming that the tune was named for Seefeld, Germany, a town just west of Munich in Bavaria. The second half picks up tempo and is more of a jazzy piano tune keeping it interesting all the way. Night, No Gale apparently is a play on words for a calm night and starts with some bird chirping naturally. Its got some funky guitar and organ rolls that lead to some more jazzy electronic key work.

Rhodes Funky starts with a some fine syncopated Rhodes piano and drums and highlights Robert’s skill and range. There’s some excellent percussion work and the keys work has the tune living up to its name. Chill has some left-right-left keys with some kick-drum heavy percussion and bass.  It’s definitely a funky organ led first half yielding to a piano  second section before the next electronic section hits and then back to piano.  It’s well structured and a good listen.

Lost in Daba is a relatively short tune but shows Robert’s great ability to merge multiple keyboards with overdubs.  There’s a lot going on here with the opening and bridge a nice duet between piano and organ. The close out features a sample of Snarky Puppy’s tune Tarova as a little surprise. Herr Kommissar has Robert speaking a little intro and on a loop before moving to more of an acid jazz feel  with Robert offering spoken and chanted vocal support, “Alles ist klar, Herr Kommissar.” This one finishes with Joe Zawinul feel.  Nite News has a nice horn sounding synth over some heavy organ for a nice but short finish to the album.

In Between the Times (2018), Robert’s second album, a play on words, no doubt. I’m guessing that Miampre, the first title refers to some pre-party of the Miami GUMFest, but that could be totally in my imagination. It features a swirling organ and piano duet with a touch of The Crusaders-Joe Sample feel.  Ninety One starts with a guitar and percussion slow groove with some excellent bass work.  He has a flair for putting in several layers in each song.  The middle of this one is very cool with a drum and guitar processional feel. This one may be my favorite tune, thus far on my journey through his catalogue. Postolon has more of a jazz feel at the start and transitions to a Doobie Brothers Takin’ It to the Streets kind of melody. He shows some great chops on organ and then again moves to a horn sounding synth before a quick closeout.  Singing Spring is a slower ballad with somewhat of a dream like feel. He converts to more of a jazz fusion feel midway.  There’s a well placed flute second for most of the second half of the tune. Wait for It is another ballad and there’s a nice superimposed piano and synth main melody.  Towards the end, he jumps to a bass led groove before the piano finish. New London is an upbeat rhythmic tune that really shows Robert’s drumming skills and this is a wonderful composition. Watusnik – 1997 from the start sounds like a cool 70s fusion tune and he’s got some nice bottle sounds and chimes as well as some good bell work. This is the longest tune on the album by far and just over 10 minutes and it’s well worth the time. It’s a nice journey. Kick It has a funky beat and Robert experimenting with the talkbox, with ‘Kick It’ among the discernable phrases here.

It’s Called Mood (2019), Robert’s third album cam out in 2019 and for me shows a real advancement in style and composition. In fact the first tune Mierain translates to ‘at ease’ in English. The opening is a fine bass-drum-keys sequence that leads to an organ and synth lead melody.  Towards the end, the pace slows to a more contemplative finish.  Wurzeln und Flugel translates to ‘roots and wings’ which I imagine relates to putting down roots in one place but also having the wings to fly and try new things.  Unfortunately I didn’t ask for the meaning when I had the opportunity.  What I find interesting is that he’s turned up the drum mix here and then fades out to more of the synth lead to balance it out. The rhythm on this one is particularly strong . Kate has a darker tone at the start vaguely similar to some of Snarky Puppy’s Sylva album. The short two minute song has a break midway and transitions more to a Steely Dan-Pat Metheny vive in the second half. Aimsbush Baybee definitely has a Steely Dan or Donald Fagen The Nightfly feel, perhaps a little more melodic than some of Robert’s more jazz fusion tunes.  Again, he engages on the voicebox to good effect. It’s Called Mood is the title track of course and gets back to the funk fusion mode where Robert seems very comfortable. There’s a very multilayered soaring section before settling back for a smooth ride. There’s a confident bass solo midway and I’ve gotta say his all around writing and performing skills are top notch.  Heterochrom seems like a play on heterochromia, a difference in a person’s eye color – perhaps they are perceived differently.  This was Robert’s area of expertise and he transitions this tune from a slower pace to a more uptempo tune early on. In the second half there’s more of an Eastern European and psychedelia feel.   Susss has a tender piano opening leading into a more traditional piece with bass, drums, organ and piano, quite beautiful in its more simple composition. Robert did enjoy splitting his tunes because the second half transitions to a more funky organ melody before reverting back to the main piano line.  He always keeps it interesting.  Honey C is a piano lead downtempo tune at the beginning that accelerates into a more funky synth tune. It finishes with a very uplifting Metheny-like section. Sahnehäubchen means ‘cream topping’ and maybe this is the icing on the album cake.

Epilog 312 (December 2020), Robert’s fourth and final album was his most ambitious with 12 new songs.  He would have graciously handed me a CD this weekend if all had been according to plan. 

Chopsticks starts us off with a simple but very elegant piano and organ duet and pauses midway for a fine piano solo that morphs into a huge electronic wave and then back for a piano-synth ending.  I like what Robert did in the second tune, Coincidence, which has a subdued opening that builds anticipation for the bigger sound to come. In the middle, there’s some synth work that calls to mind a subway train coming into the station. The tune has a very comforting new age feel with a lullaby ending. Synchronicity has some great mixing with left-right channel and an actual car engine plugged in to the beginning.  So far, this one is the most funky on the album with some driving bass as the backbone. He breaks the song into pieces with a piano interlude and switches the second half to a more melodic sequence and then back to the funky opening structure. There’s a tease of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration in the mix as well, perhaps leading to the song coming up on the album? Synchronicity is definitely an overall favorite.

Let the Games Begin is another one that builds to a large wall of sound. At its peak, it’s a treat of sound and space engineering, especially with high quality headphones.  Celebration is in fact an adaptation of the Kool and the Gang hit with the recognizable opening that segues in a piano solo and then reverts back.  Eins Zwei Drei starts with a smooth piano, guitar (with guest Joachim Parduhn), bass trilogy , then brings in some swirling organ.  It’s very easy to forget that one person put all of this together because of the intricacy of the arrangement.

One More starts very softly but mid song it picks up to a sound kaleidoscope.  It again features Joachim on a couple of hot solos with the second ending the tune.  Need Some Delay starts with a mini dream sequence and again plays some nice tricks via bell sounding effects and a very effective mix left and right. It took me a moment to recognize that the echo efforts are likely a pun on the song title, Need Some Delay.  Strange Days is a shot tune at just over 2 minutes very transient in mood with a sound like a bell tolling. Robert makes excellent use of  cymbals What You Get, with them almost as the lead with his usual piano accompaniment. 

Epilog is a very pleasant and is possibly the best representation of his evolution from Evolon to Epilog. It has a multitude of angles playing off the main theme, a very cohesive piece of work. The use of the organ at the end of the tune is very Metheny-esque and nears the end with a nice crescendo.  Schlussbetrachtung starts with a gorgeous 3+ minute piano solo and silence, a very emotive piece. It moves to a string sounding synth with piano in a symphonic fashion, so moving. He really shines here.  The last portion of the song shifts to a typical jazz piano trio with piano, bass and drums and a touch of synth and has a very smooth transition back to the head.

As usual there are some playful tunes on Epilog, but I sure do wonder about the coincidence of the title of the album which is also the title of the next to last tune. And the final tune title Schlussbetrachtung means ‘final consideration’ in German. Robert passed away in his sleep at age 58 — his friendship meant a lot to me and I’ll always listen fondly to his music.  If you got this far, thanks for reading this long post and I hope you’ll enjoy the music of Robert Gast.

In Memory of Robert Gast

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