Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Brian Charette’s Music for Organ Sextette Takes the B3 to the Next Level

Brian Charette’s an interesting guy. He practices an unorthodox style of kung fu; he writes authoritatively on topics like chord voicings in Messiaen; and he plays the Hammond B3 organ like no other jazz musician. That might be because he was on the fast track to a career in classical music before being sidelined by a severe finger injury. So he went into jazz, and the world is richer for it. Charette employs every inch of his B3 for an unexpectedly diverse, rich sonic spectrum. His compositions are counterintuitive, catchy and clever, but not too clever by half. His latest album, Music for Organ Sextette is cerebral and witty, packed with good tunes and good ideas: it shifts the paradigm as far as carving out a place for the organ in jazz is concerned. The band here is superb and rises to the occasion, with John Ellis taking a turn on bass clarinet, Jay Collins on flute, Joel Frahm on tenor, Mike DiRubbo on alto and Jochen Rueckert on drums.

Bright and ambitious, the opening track, Computer God sets the tone, the organ against punchy punctuation from ensemble horns over a bossa beat that morphs into a vivid dichotomy between wicked chromatic chorus and a tricky, circular, riff-driven verse. Charette’s use of the organ’s highest, most keening tones, along with DiRubbo’s occasional diversion into microtones, adds edge and bite. They follow that with a miniature straight out of Scarlatti, Fugue for Katheleen Anne, and then into the Ex Girlfriend Variations, who if the music is to be believed is a nice girl but she just won’t shut up. It’s a soul song, essentially, building to a nimbly orchestrated thicket of individual voices and New Orleans allusions that threaten to completely fall apart but never do. A study in incessant tempo shifts, Risk disguises a soul/blues tune within all kinds of hijinks: a coy fake fanfare from Frahm, an unselfconscious yelp from Charette and an irresistibly amusing trick ending. The funniest track here is The Elvira Pacifier, a spot-on parody of a device that every Jamaican roots reggae band always overdoes in concert. It gives Rueckert the chance to prove he’s a mighty one-drop player; Frahm acquits himself well at ska, but DiRubbo and Ellis don’t take it seriously at all. As they probably shouldn’t.

Equal Opportunity offers a launching pad for all kinds of dynamic contrasts: shifting use of space, lead-ins stepping all over outros, whispery lows versus blithe highs, Charette and DiRubbo using every inch of their registers. Prayer for an Agnostic proves the band just as adept at a slow, sweet 6/8 gospel groove, lit up by a spiraling Collins solo; Late Night TV explores a wry, sometimes tongue-in-cheek go-go vibe and then hits unexpectedly joyous heights. French Birds, a slyly polyrhythmic swing tune, features all kinds of nimble accents from Rueckert and reaches for noir ambience, followed by the creepiest track here, Mode for Sean Wayland, jagged funk juxtaposed against eerie, otherworldly interludes that make psychedelia out of big Messiaenesque block chords. The album ends with Tambourine, the album’s one funky “Chicken Shack” moment that takes a jaunty turn in a Booker T direction. It’s a fun ride, and will make new believers of jazz fans who might mistakenly think that all B3 grooves are created equal.

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May 24, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, organ music, reggae music, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Album of the Day 5/31/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #609:

Jimmy Smith – Midnight Special

Conventional wisdom is that Back at the Chicken Shack is the great Hammond B3 jazz organist’s alltime classic (although pretty much everything the guy ever recorded is worth hearing). We picked this 1963 release A) to be perverse, B) because the tracks are a little better, and lesser-known, and C) because it’s everything BUT Smith’s signature shuffle grooves. Everything on both albums was recorded in a single day – to say that Smith and his band (Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Donald Bailey on drums and Kenny Burrell guesting on guitar on three tracks) were on top of their game is an understatement. Basie’s One O’Clock Jump gets a terse, biting blues treatment, alongside Bird’s Jumpin’ the Blues, while Why Was I Born? makes funk out of the Rodgers/Hammerstein showtune. Turrentine’s A Subtle One is a wickedly catchy song without words; the title track, a straight-up blues, swings with a jaunty, summery joy. Here’s a random torrent via Oufar Khan.

May 31, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Ehud Asherie Goes Green

Ehud Asherie is an interesting guy, a longtime star of the New York jazz underground with a unique and soulful voice on the organ. A lot of jazz players go straight for the funky grooves pioneered by Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff and there’s definitely that feel here but there’s also a welcome fearlessness of the kind of power a B3 organ can deliver. Which is especially interesting since Asherie’s previous albums highlight his feel for samba jazz, a style which is completely the opposite. The group on this latest cd, Organic, has the ubiquitous Peter Bernstein, characteristically terse and incisive on guitar, along with Dmitry Baevsky providing color on alto sax and drummer Phil Stewart having a great time switching between shuffles, undulating Brazilian beats and some playful funk.

They reinvent Tonight, from West Side Story, as a shuffle, Asherie locking into a darkly chordal approach as he will frequently throughout this album; Bernstein’s expansive, exploratory solo and Baevsky’s balmy contributions contrast considerably. They play up the beat on Sonny Rollins’ The Stopper almost to the point where it’s Keystone Kops, choppy terrain for Asherie to sail through with some tricky yet perfectly balanced arpeggios. And a waltz finally, cleverly emerges out of a thicket of syncopation on Asherie’s Walse Pra Jelena, the organ adding an unexpectedly distant carnivalesque tinge echoed in Bernstein’s considerably more anxious second solo.

The most trad early 60s number here is the swinging, midtempo Apostrophe, closer to Made Men than Mad Men with its biting organ solo. Likewise, Jobim’s Favela is punchy, edgy and frankly a lot more interesting than the original, more of a straight-up shuffle. Bernstein grabs the melody and sinks his teeth into it, and Stewart takes it all the way to the depths of Africa with a boomy Yoruban-tinged solo. The rest of the album includes It’s Possible, a warmly lyrical, sneakily brisk original; a slightly smoky, stately and surprisingly intense version of Guy Lombardo’s Coquette; and a swirling, bluesily inspired Fats Waller tribute. A welcome change from a lot of the retro B3 albums coming out lately – and no pesticides either. It’s out now on Posi-Tone.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jared Gold Gets Out of Line

Remember that scene in American Splendor where Harvey opens the review copy of the album he’s just received in the mail, looks at it and then says, glumly, “Oh. Another organ-and-tenor record?” These days, organ-and-tenor records don’t grow on trees anymore, and this one’s hardly ordinary. The title of organist Jared Gold’s third and latest album Out of Line seems to be tongue-in-cheek because there’s a definite continuity here – he really sets a mood and keeps it going. From the wicked minor-key soul riff of the opening track to a barely recognizable soul-infused, Grant Green/Jimmy Smith style version of the old bubblegum pop hit La-La Means I Love You, he and the band here – Chris Cheek on tenor sax, Dave Stryker on guitar and Mark Ferber on drums – establish a warm, nocturnal, retro 60s groove and stay with it.

Preachin,’ a matter-of-factly midtempo soul/blues tune has Stryker casual and sometimes wry, followed by similarly genial bluesiness by Gold. The title track is a subtle bossa shuffle, Gold sun-speckled and summery yet hinting at unease. Their version of Stevie Wonder’s You Haven’t Done Nothin’ is more of a blues-tinted slink than straight-up funk, Stryker’s wah guitar chilling in the back, Gold bringing a late 60s psychedelic chordal feel to the groove. The pretty ballad It Is Well works a gentle handoff from Cheek to Gold, who’s really in an atmospheric, psychedelic mood by now. They follow that with the laid-back, swinging shuffle Down South, both Stryker and Gold lighting up the ambience with incisive, vibrant solos. The Stone Age, a jazzier take on a Bill Withers-style groove, takes it up as high as they get on this album. Stryker raises his lighter amiably, Cheek sails off into the clouds and Gold finally punches out some gritty Jimmy McGriff-style funk.

They close with an updated, funkified version of Skylark. This is a great late-night disc with an especially intimate feel (the organ’s Leslie speaker has been close-miked: you can actually hear Gold’s fingers moving nimbly across the keys). It’s out now on Posi-Tone, who seem to have a franchise on retro lately.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment