Cory Wong: Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul
The most quintessential moment on Cory Wong’s third studio album isn’t even musical. After the strutting climax of hornheavy soul jam “St. Paul,” the guitarist exclaims with the giddy joy of a child at an amusement park: “Come on! That outro was insane!” He then shouts out guest pianist Jon Batiste and erupts into laughter. Later, after wrapping the absurdly funky “Lunchtime,” he can’t help but hype bassist Sonny Thompson, whose dizzying solo sounds like it couldn’t have been produced by a being with less than 10 arms. “Sonny!” Wong shouts, before another contagious belly laugh. That unbridled enthusiasm defines Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul —but also Wong’s creative journey, from his classy solo work and side project The Fearless Flyers to collaborations with fellow new-funk all-stars Vulfpeck. Like his previous projects, Motivational Music pulls off a tricky balancing act: The atmosphere is always playful, even occasionally silly, but the musicianship is so topshelf that you can’t reach it without a ladder. Wong and his trusted Fender Stratocaster plant their roots in capital-f Funk, but the branches grow outward: They conjure Bootsy Collins with the psychedelic wahwah on “Cosmic Sans,” lean into breezy Latin-jazz with the Batisteassisted “Home,” adopt a glorious R&B swagger on “Frogville” and slide into gospel with the laid-back “Companion Pass” (featuring an inspiring, sermon-like speech from the guitarist himself). “No one in the world is gonna be as good as you at being you!” he declares. Just like with his studio chatter, or his celebratory funk itself, Wong always aims to spread the joy around.