Counterintuitive B3 Jazz Tunefulness from Kerong Chok
While jazz is a worldwide phenomenon, artists from outside the United States so often bring unexpectedly welcome ideas with them. Maybe it’s that organist Kerong Chok is from Singapore, maybe not, but his new album Good Company isn’t your typical B3 groove record. There are a couple of pretty standard, brisk 8th-note shuffles here, but the rest of this collection of original compositions reveals a distinctive voice, a strong sense of melody and inspired playing from a first-rate band: Lucas Pino on tenor and soprano sax, and flute; Michael Valeanu on guitar; Jake Goldbas on drums and Matt Holman supplying trumpet on a couple of cuts. Goldbas is one of the principal reasons why this is such an enjoyable album, constantly on the prowl, swiping and scrambling for offbeats: he’s an extrovert and a hard hitter, which keeps the energy level consistently high.
The best composition here is the title track, taking what’s essentially a nocturnal soul ballad and making a jazz waltz out of it, much in the same vein as up-and-coming trombonist David Gibson’s best work. With rich harmonies between Chok and Pino, lushly atmospheric, crescendoing drums and a remarkably direct guitar solo that goes straight to the essence of the song, it packs a punch. Likewise, the cut which follows it, Incessant, which makes a deliciously radical shift from straight-up, catchy funk to some rivetingly moody modal interplay between Pino and Holman over Valeanu’s casually ominous chordal work. The way Chok goes spiraling beneath the hook as another brightly funky track, Free and Easy, winds out, is also a characteristically unpredictable, powerful moment.
Rather than being a dirge, The First Day of School is rhythmically tricky and allusively bluesy. Samba Number 1 follows a richly counterintuitive light-to-dark trajectory, on the wings of Chok’s rippling, bittersweet solo, while the languid, this-close-to-morose For Kenny gives Pino a long launching pad for a memorable, expansively pensive excursion on tenor. There’s also a slinky latin groove that has Goldbas hinting at reggae, and the wickedly catchy opening track, Black Ice, a swinging B3 take on Miles Davis-style modalities that gives Valeanu a platform for giving it depth and gravitas, eventually echoed by the whole band. This is something that ought to appeal not only to fans of jazz organ but to anyone looking for a solid and consistently interesting album of jazz songs – and they’re songs in the purest sense of the word.
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