Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Gary Smulyan Goes Where Nobody Else Has Since About 1970

Isn’t it funny how the Hammond B3 organ and the baritone sax have complemented each other so well in funk music and ska for decades…yet hardly ever in jazz? For that matter has there EVER been a B3 jazz groove record featuring baritone sax? According to the liner notes for Gary Smulyan’s new album Smul’s Paradise (just out on Capri Records), the answer is yes: bari player Ronnie Cuber did several sessions with Lonnie Smith in the 60s, and is featured on Smith’s 1970 Live at Club Mozambique album. But in the past four decades? There doesn’t appear to be anything else! So this new album is especially welcome, an animated, warmly congenial, wee-hours collection of brilliant obscurities and originals originally conceived as a tribute to underrated 60s organist Don Patterson that quickly took on a life of its own.

Smulyan gets props everywhere, most recently as a winner of the 2011 DownBeat critics poll. This album is typical, in that it features his methodically aggressive, frequently wry, witty attack and smoky tone: Smulyan knows that there’s always a potential for humor in his instrument, and he’s not afraid to go there. Organist Mike LeDonne and guitarist Peter Bernstein have a comfortable rapport that stems from their long-running collaboration as the core of the house band at Harlem’s Smoke Jazz Club. Kenny Washington – Smulyan’s favorite drummer, and a lot of other peoples’ – propels this unit with his usual blend of scholarly erudition and counterintuitive verve.

The opening track is a radically reinvented version Bobby Hebb’s 60s pop hit Sunny- is this a staggered bolero? A jazz waltz? Either way, it’s a long launching pad for methodical, steady 8th-note runs by Smulyan and Bernstein. Patterson’s Up in Betty’s Room is a ridiculously catchy stripper theme of sorts, Smulyan in confidently deadpan mode, LeDonne enhancing the vintage soul/blues vibe with his bubbly, animated lines. Pistaccio, by another unfairly neglected 60s organ talent, Rhoda Scott, sails along on Washington’s blissfully subtle bossa-tinged groove. Similarly, Washington shakes up the shuffle on the catchy title track, capped off by a high-spirited round of call-and-response, everyone getting a word in with the drums.

George Coleman’s Little Miss Half Steps gets a bright, unselfconsciously fun treatment with some artful syncopation from Smulyan, organ and guitar again interspersed between the drum breaks (many of the tracks here were completed in a single take; this sounds like one of them). The most memorable number here is Patterson and Sonny Stitt’s soul song Aires, Bernstein channeling vintage George Benson, LeDonne’s lush washes of chords taking it up several notches. The album closes with the swinging, insistent Blues for D.P., a Patterson homage by Smulyan, and Heavenly Hours, a mashup of Seven Steps to Heaven and My Shining Hour. Amusingly (and maybe intentionally), the hook sounds like Diablo’s Dance (which incidentally is the opening cut on the highly anticipated new album of early Wes Montgomery recordings out soon on Resonance). As party music, this is awfully hard to beat: it’s the perfect soundtrack to 4 AM get-togethers when nobody cares anymore whether the people down the hall are awake or not.

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February 9, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mike DiRubbo’s Chronos – A Fun Way to Kill Time

Saxophonist Mike DiRubbo’s new album Chronos is a refreshingly different kind of B3 jazz album. Not that there’s anything wrong with funky organ shuffles, it’s just a lot of fun discovering something this different and rewarding. Here Brian Charette’s Hammond organ functions more like a piano or a guitar, comping chords, providing atmosphere rather than amping the funk factor to eleven. The way his chords are voiced is particularly cool – sometimes they evoke a guitar, other times they edge closer to soul music, more like Booker T. Jones than Jimmy Smith. Drummer Rudy Royston leaves a lot more space here than he usually does and keeps you wanting more – his signature rolls are there, but sometimes miles apart, or so it seems. It’s more of a challenge than a stretch for the rhythm section, an obviously enjoyable one and that translates for the listener. DiRubbo plays alto and soprano here, moving from matter-of-factly catch melodic excursions to the occasional wailing explosion: he doesn’t overemote or waste notes.

They don’t waste time getting going with the wryly titled, briskly scurrying Minor Progress, DiRubbo veering in and out of focus, Charette’s carbonated bursts evoking a late 60s/early 70s art-rock ambience and a little Royston break that only hints at what he’s capable of. The carefree, swinging title track has DiRubbo opening it using a pitch pedal for some simple chords and then choosing his spots judiciously, Charette following in the same vein until a rare squall from the sax over a hypnotically intensifying organ vamp. Another aptly titled one, Lilt, a jazz waltz, pairs off DiRubbo lyricism against Charette’s minimalist lines; the seriously catchy Rituals has the sax cleverly scraping the sidewalls of a circular organ lick, again hypnotically.

Charette has some songs here too. Nouveau, a cheerful ballad, pairs expansive sax against a velvety backdrop; another well-titled one, Excellent Taste has Charette matching DiRubbo’s fluid extrapolations, Royston unable to resist a jab or two on the toms here and there. And the absolutely gorgeous More Physical runs a catchy circular hook to a big, blustering, swirling soprano solo. The closest thing to a classic Jimmy Smith style B3 shuffle is Lucky 13, which benefits from DiRubbo holding it back from cliche territory, and Eight for Elvin, which they throw to Royston and he absolutely owns it – when DiRubbo goes insistent and wailing with the drums guarding the edges aggressively, it’s exquisite. Three guys on top of their game with some great songs. It’s out now on Posi-Tone; DiRubbo plays the cd release show for this one on March 24 at 9 at Smalls.

March 17, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review Atsuko Hashimoto’s New Album

Good Cop: Wow, they gave us a new assignment! We must have done a good job with that last review, no thanks to you…

Bad Cop: Just doing my job. Can you pass me that bottle please.

Good Cop: I didn’t hear that. Pass it yourself. I’m on duty.

Bad Cop [pours himself a huge glass of wine]: Today’s album is…how do you pronounce this…

Good Cop: Until the Sun Comes Up.

Bad Cop: No, the organist…

Good Cop: That’s Atsuko Hashimoto. Her new album is just out on Capri Records and it’s a throwback to the days of B3 jazz organ lounges in the 60s. When jazz was the people’s music, that everybody danced to and kept the bars open until closing time. Which explains the title…

Bad Cop: God, what a generic track listing. You’d think they could come up with something more interesting. Henry Mancini, Satchmo, You Are My Sunshine. Wake me up when this is over.

Good Cop: C’mon, let’s give it a spin. The opening track is All or Nothing at All – this makes me edgy, I can’t sit still. OK, give me a splash of that wine, I need to calm down here.

Bad Cop: Wow, this is fast. Did you just hear that nasty bluesy phrase she just ran for a couple of bars? This is juke joint jazz! I’m down with this!

Good Cop: You’re breaking character. Listen up, stay in character or risk the consequences.

Bad Cop: Such as?

Good Cop: Me turning bad. You don’t want to risk it.

Bad Cop: OK. The next track is Soul Station. Swing tune. Hank Mobley. Everybody’s done it. This sounds like Jimmy Smith – nothing wrong with that I guess. Who’s the guitarist?

Good Cop: Graham Dechter.

Bad Cop: Monster player. Listen to that tremolo picking, it’s like he’s lighting a match in the wind. I can’t understand why he’s not famous.

Good Cop: He’s not in New York. Colorado guy, from what I can figure.

Bad Cop: Come to New York, dude, plenty of work, even in a depression. And people will know who you are.

Good Cop: That’s Jeff Hamilton on drums.

Bad Cop: Noooooo…not the guy whose album we totally disrespected about a year ago….

Good Cop: Yup. Jeff, it’s about time we made it up to you. You wail.

Bad Cop: The organist won’t understand that…

Good Cop: Don’t assume that. That doesn’t make you look very openminded.

Bad Cop: OK. What I mean specifically by that is that I’m digging those shuffle beats and the fact that he’s not phoning it in, that you can just focus in on the drums and really enjoy being surprised…and the next track is So In Love. I don’t know this one. Curtis Mayfield did a great song with this title back in the 70s but this is new to me…whew…this is fast, I need another drink, pass me the bottle please…

Good Cop [passes the bottle]: OK. Now you know why every jazz bar had this kind of music back in the day…

Bad Cop: Amen [burp]. Wow. Joe Pass filigree runs, sixteenth notes, the crowd is on their feet…

Good Cop:…and a lush suspenseful passage when you least expected it. She knows how to work a crowd…

Bad Cop: The next song is Moon River, reinvented as a swing tune. Can I tell you a story? I saw REM – you know, the rock band – play this one before they got really famous and it was really cool. And this is kinda the same, it barely resembles the original and that’s why it’s great…

Good Cop: C’mon, say something bad, you’re out of character.

Bad Cop: REM sucks now.

Good Cop: I love this version, it’s such a river. What can I say. It blows away the original. Moon River – fluid, unstoppable, she nails it.

Bad Cop: OK, next track, What a Wonderful World. What a boring choice.

Good Cop: What a sweet rippling solo about three quarters of the way through….

Bad Cop: OK, next track. Blues for Naka. Club owner somewhere in Japan. Rescued and then consigned to obscurity with this song. But it’s good – swing blues with a balmy guitar solo, something you don’t expect from a requiem. Hey, I’m going upstairs, can you hang with this album for awhile?

Good Cop [quizzically]: No problem.

[ten minutes later] Good Cop: I have just been informed that Bad Cop has been overwhelmed by America’s favorite Chilean wine and will not be reappearing this evening. So to recap the album, I think it’s something that the new generation of kids, who like something fun and retro to dance to, will be into. Obviously, the indie crowd won’t dare to like this because the concept of fun doesn’t exist in the indie world. You know, if you express emotion, that might not be pre-approved for your peer group, and in that case you have to face the consequences. So I guess that means me facing the consequences! I like the delicious, unexpecting phrasing in You Are My Sunshine. I love how, in Cherry, the guitar solo goes intense when least expected. The way the guitar and organ, and then the drums, have fun playing back and forth with each other on You’re in My Heart Alone is just plain fun – I love that guitar solo – and I like how the last track combines a sort of Stevie Wonder feel with…wait a minute…whoah! This is California Sun! Did whoever wrote the Beach Boys’ California Sun steal it from a gospel song? Wouldn’t surprise me! Listen to this and decide for yourself. It’s out now on Capri Records.

February 26, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment