Ghost-NoteMustard n'OnionsArtistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group

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Mustard n’Onions

“I feel like mustard stinks. I feel like onions stink. You put the two of them together … it’s just funky,” says drummer-keyboardist Robert Sput Searight, co-founder and co-producer of groove titans Ghost-Note alongside percussionist Nate Werth

Indeed, the 15 tracks on Mustard n’Onions — the band’s third LP, first new album in six years and debut for Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group — further Ghost-Note’s mission to provide rhythm-hungry crowds with, per Sput, “a mind-blowing healing sensation.” From the Soul Brother No. 1 tribute “JB’s Out! (Do It Babay),” through the masterfully funky “Bad Knees,” a co-write by the group’s visionary bass player, MonoNeon, the psychedelic-soul-tinged “Grandma’s Curtains,” and “Nard’s Right,” one of R&B/jazz hero Bernard Wright’s final recorded appearances, Mustard n’Onions delivers Ghost-Note’s supremely danceable goods. The 10-piece band’s performances — as befitting veterans of Snarky Puppy, Prince, Kendrick Lamar, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Kirk Franklin and other icons — are bracing in their virtuosity, affecting in their soulfulness and inspired in their sonic choices.  

But the album also presents a story of an ensemble maturing and solidifying and finding an identity. On the band’s freewheeling 2018 release, Swagism, the lineup was still developing and, as Sput explains, “We didn’t have a sound; we didn’t know what we were gonna sound like.” The music on Mustard n’Onions, he says, reflects the firmed-up character of a unit whose “camaraderie and chemistry” have accrued over countless gigs. What’s more, nearly every band member has at least one writing credit on Mustard n’Onions. Sput remains Ghost-Note’s primary writer and de facto musical director, but he’s now shaping his music for and with his bandmates.    

Though it was tracked primarily on tour breaks, during fun, hang-style sessions at a house/studio facility in Southern California, Mustard n’Onions finds Ghost-Note carefully honing that sense of collaborative songcraft — wrangling the jammy openness of Swagism into Sput’s arrangements of striking clarity and precision, and using pockets of vocals to ramp up the house-rocking vibe. “It was authentic the way the recording happened,” Sput says, “but we were more strategic about it this time.” 

Along for the funky ride is a who’s who of groove-music greats. Most moving is the presence, on three tracks, of Bernard Wright (1963-2022), a musical genius who led a nomadic life and who stayed with both Sput and Werth at various points. “It was like a celebration whenever he would show up,” Werth says, before Sput calls his time with the much-sampled sage “an opportunity to take care of your mentor — and to learn from him.” Mustard n’Onions also features, among other guests, Karl Denson, founding Robert Glasper Experiment member Casey Benjamin, Snarky Puppy standouts Mark Lettieri and Jay Jennings, pedal-steel luminary Travis Toy, and electric-bass GOAT Marcus Miller, whose funky melodicism is the perfect fit for the strings-accented “Yellow Dan” — titled for its evocations of Yellowjackets and Steely Dan.

One of Sput’s “all-time favorite” guitarists, blues-rock god Eric Gales, wails on the single “Grandma’s Curtains,” which Sput wrote in the image of his ’70s soul favorites — Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone, and Parliament-Funkadelic. (He also mentions a bit of Hendrix as an inspiration, and with Gales’ explosive guitar work, that association isn’t far from mind.) The tune is fever-pitch funk, with an atmosphere of sweet, personal nostalgia just underneath: “When this music was being created in the ’70s,” Sput explains, “I was pulling at my grandma’s curtains when she was babysitting me, ’cause I wanted to look out the window.” 

And while these fiery guest spots remain highlights, so many of the most extraordinary moments throughout Mustard n’Onions belong to the core Ghost-Note players, and stem from the band’s nearly nonstop life on the road. Take “Where’s Danny?,” with its tour-de-force solo by the group’s youngest member, trombonist Danny Wytanis: The title, a band in-joke, came about after Sput, feeling the effects of psychedelics, couldn’t find his surrogate little bro at a music festival. “We lost Danny for two hours!” Sput chuckles today. “I was like, ‘I haven’t met his parents yet! It would be horrible for me to tell them I lost their kid!’” 

Every element of Ghost-Note exudes togetherness — not least those house/studio sessions for Mustard n’Onions, where, as Nate Werth recalls, “quite often the rhythm section would be practicing — Sput would be teaching us a new song section by section — and in the kitchen the horns would be cooking up dinner.” But familial vibes should be expected in a band that began with a life-changing brotherhood. 

Well over a decade ago, Sput and Werth found themselves gigging together in the Texas-rooted fusion powerhouse Snarky Puppy — Werth on his creatively, globally curated percussion setup, and Sput on keys and, later, drums. What developed, rapidly, was a great mutual respect and a musical kinship that seemed to border on telepathy. “I started to get a kick out of anticipating what it was going to feel like to play with Nate the next night,” Sput recalls. The two musicians’ hookup began to rhythmically define Snarky Puppy’s groundbreaking work, making both men multiple Grammy Award winners in the process.

At a certain point during Snarky’s ceaseless tour schedule, Sput’s nightly improvised solo began to signify a new pathway. “I got bored taking drum solos,” Sput says, “so I asked Nate to join me. It was like we were finishing each other’s sentences. We did it so well to where fans started coming up and asking, ‘What was the name of that song you and the percussion player were quoting?’” An idea for a beat CD was hatched, which quickly flowered into a new group — one that would function less as a “collective” à la Snarky Puppy and more as a dedicated squad.  

“We bonded in life as brothers and in making music,” Sput says. Now, Ghost-Note have become OGs or elder statesmen in a way, influencing newer generations of “frustrated jazz musicians,” to borrow Sput’s favorite description of his bandmates: That is, state-of-the-art jazz-trained musicians who worship the groove but not genre limitations.

With its more focused approach to funk and vocal performances like those on “JB’s Out!,” featuring current lead singer Mackenzie, and “Grandma’s Curtains,” showcasing Sput and Dominique Xavier Taplin, Mustard n’Onions can also be heard as a “sign of what’s to come” for Ghost-Note: more vocal-led tunes, a greater emphasis on songwriting. This is, after all, a band that simply cannot stop evolving, that seems to grow and learn with every year, every tour, every gig. 

Still, you can be sure that whatever the next phase brings will remain, as Sput puts it, “positively, unapologetically funky.”  


Upcoming Performances

June 14, 2024 Austin, TX Parish
June 15, 2024 Ft. Worth, TX Juneteeth Celebration
June 28, 2024 San Diego, CA Winstons
June 29, 2024 Pioneertown, CA Pappy + Harriet’s
June 30, 2024 Los Angeles, CA Lodge Room
July 4, 2024 Santa Cruz, CA Moe’s Alley
July 6 – 7, 2024 Quincy, CA High Sierra Festival
July 9, 2024 Berkeley, CA Cornerstone
July 11, 2024 Seattle, WA Neptune Theatre
July 12, 2024 Portland, OR The Get Down
July 13, 2024 Veneta, OR Oregon Country Fair
July 26, 2024 Nigata, Japan Fuji Rock Festival
August 2, 2024 Albany, NY The Egg
August 3, 2024 Newport, RI Newport Jazz Festival
August 5 – 7, 2024 New York, NY Blue Note
August 24, 2024 Santa Cruz, CA Mountain Sol Festival
August 25, 2024 Napa, CA Blue Note Summer Session
August 31, 2024 Manteno, IL ShoeFest
September 1, 2024 Detroit, MI Detroit Jazz Festival
October 11, 2024 Nancy, France Nancy Jazz Pulsations – Chapiteau
October 12, 2024 Prague, Czech Republic Palac Akropolis
October 14, 2024 Mannheim, Germany Karlstorbahnhof
October 16, 2024 Paris, France Trabendo
October 17, 2024 Tourcoing, France Magic Mirror
October 18, 2024 Utrecht, Netherlands TivoliVredenburg
October 23, 2024 Nimes, France Paloma
October 24, 2024 Barcelona, Spain Sala Apolo 2
October 25, 2024 Madrid, Spain Sala Villanos
October 26, 2024 Bordeaux, France Rocher de Palmer
October 27, 2024 La Rochelle, France La Slrene
October 29, 2024 Luxembourg Rockhal
October 30, 2024 Bern, Switzerland Bierhübeli