Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Extrovert Organist Brian Charette Keeps Pushing the Envelope

Organist Brian Charette is this era’s Larry Young, expanding the terrain an organist can cover. And he’s one of the funniest guys in jazz: onstage, his sardonic wit infuses the music as much as the between-song banter. After years of toiling as the main organ jazz attraction at Smalls, and touring relentlessly, he’s finally been getting the critical recognition he deserves. His  next gig is with his Sextette at Dizzy’s Club on Feb 13, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $30. With six guys in the band, this is a prime opportunity to catch Charette at his devious best.

The last time this blog was in the house at one of Charette’s shows, it was last fall and he was playing an intimate trio set with his mesmerising singer wife Melanie Scholtz at Rue B in the East Village. In terms of unselfconsciously spectacular talent, it wouldn’t be overhype to call these two the newest power couple in jazz. While this gig was completely different from what Charette does in a straight-ahead jazz context, he was still just as much of a shark on the prowl, chilling out between the rocks, waiting for a choice morsel of melody to sink his teeth into.

Scholtz sings in several languages including Xosa, a distinctive and particularly difficult vernacular from her native South Africa that includes clicks along with vowels and consonants. Playing percussion and syndrums, she looped her vocals on several numbers, constructing wildly spiraling, kaleidescopic melodies on a couple of them as Charette shifted from Afrobeat to dub to gospel to vintage soul to a little funk, sometimes all of that in the same serpentine number.

Much as Charette’s erudite textures and idiomatic shifts were entertaining, Scholtz was a force of nature, rising from shamanic, unearthly lows to soaring highs, coyly fluttering intimacy and a gale-force wail. Spun through the mixer, those tones took on all sorts of unexpected, surreal shapes. Yet as psychedelically enveloping as all that turned out to be, it was when she went straight through the PA without any effects that she delivered her most spine-tingling moments of the night. She and Charette are off on European tour next month.

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February 11, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thrills and Subtlety and Paradigm Shifts with the Brian Charette Trio

What’s the likelihood of seeing an organ jazz trio with piano and drums? About as common as seeing three jazz wits as great as bandleader and organist Brian Charette with his new trio including Henry Hey on piano and Jochen Rueckert on drums all on the same stage. Their humor wasn’t broad, some of it was very subtle, some of it very “inside.” And it ran the ganut, with rhythmic and harmonic jousting and the occasional elbow flying as they went into the paint. It’s impossible to imagine any band in New York having as much fun onstage as these three guys had Tuesday night at Smalls.

After years of being championed by this blog and its predecessor, Charette is finally getting well-deserved props from the mainstream jazz media. Organ jazz tends to get stereotyped as gutbucket, toe-tapping music, and a lot of it is – and is supposed to be. But Charette is pushing the envelope as far as anyone has with the style, as this unorthodox lineup attests. Rather than using pedals, the bandleader tirelessly walked the bass with his lefthand while conjuring up a continent worth of rivers of sound, some of them turbulent, some of them bubbly and a couple of them deep and menacing, with his right.

Hey, the longtime David Bowie collaborator, distinguished himself with his imaginative, minimalisticaly insistent lefthand attack while augmenting and spiraling off the bandleader’s kaleidoscopic tangents in the upper registers. Rueckert was the evening’s main instigator, playfully nudging or jabbing the shuffles and struts – and a couple of unexpected waltzes – into the fast lane, or off onto a siding at breakneck speed. Charette arranged an artfully dynamic setlist, as if to say, “Let’s get the complicated stuff out of the way and then do the party stuff after the break when everybody’s all liquored up.” Worked like a charm.

They opened with Time Changes, a wry over-the-shoulder shout back to Dave Brubeck. Rueckert gave the song a floating swing that enabled his own sly shenanigans as much as it smoothed the landing for Charette’s tongue-in-cheek metric mess-around. You might not expect to ever hear organ versions of Tad’s Delight, or Bud Powell’s Dance of the Infidels,as organ jazz  or an absolutely rapturous and unexpectedly plaintive take of Larry Young’s Paris Eyes, but that’s Charette. The highlight of the first set was his original, Conquistador, which he explained away as a Spanish-Hungarian hybrid, turning up the smoke on his roto speaker for its rather grim Magyar harmonies.

Ironically, the best song of the night – and Charette’s compositions are songs in the purest sense of the word – happened to be the only moment in more than two hours of music where he lost the crowd. At that point, it was almost one in the morning and all the college kids and a smattering of tourists were full of booze and primed for a party anthem or two. So when Charette brought the eerie cascades of Hungarian Major down for thirty seconds or so – you know, suspense, and dynamics – the kids weren’t with it. But he got them back with the lone Jimmy Smith number of the evening, a pouncing, sprightly take of The Cat. There was also a funky, funny homage to Fred Wesley of the JB’s, and a take of the first jazz tune Charette ever wrote, a look back on a time when the Bach he’d begun with was still front and center in his fingers. Which isn’t to say that it ever left, testament to this guy’s originality and fearlessness in mashing up sounds from jazz, classical, funk and even some deep roots reggae. Charette’s next New York gig as a leader is on New Year’s Day, 2017 at half past noon – yikes – at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s Place. Then on Jan 11 at 7 PM he’s at Smoke uptown leading a killer trio with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Ari Hoenig.

December 5, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet Another Ambitiously Fun Album and a Couple of Smoke Dates from Organist Brian Charette

Brian Charette gets a lot of ink here, partly because he’s been so ubiquitous. He’s gone back to his original instrument, the piano for some gigs including a turn with erudite, infectiously charismatic chanteuse Audrey Bernstein, as well as leading his own organ jazz groups. And he keeps putting out albums, all of them infused with his signature wit and penchant for pushing the envelope out of the organ jazz ghetto. If you’re down with the B3 jazz cult, toe-tapping gin lounge grooves are great fun, but like his fellow A-list organists Barbara Dennerlein and Jared Gold, Charette keeps reinventing the genre. His latest release, Alphabet City – most of which is streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is a characteristically eclectic, fun mix. of tunes. He’s doing a two-night album release stand uptown at Smoke on July 15 and 16 with sets at 7 and 9 PM; cover is just $15, which is a real deal at this place. And if the prix-fixe menu doesn’t match your requirements, you can always hang back at the bar where the sound is just as good as it is in the rest of the room.

The album is a trio session with Will Bernard on guitar and Rudy Royston on drums. You probably wouldn’t associate Royston – another increasingly ubiquitous guy – with this kind of music, but his extrovert drive is a good match for the bandleader’s sense of humor. The album kicks off with East Village, a bubbly, bustling shuffle with a subtly carnivalesque undercurrent – which makes sense considering what’s happened to the neighborhood. The band follows that with They Left Fred Out, a catchy, jauntily syncopated soul-jazz strut with characteristic Charette wit. After that, West Village, a suave swing number, has a similarly erudite, nonchalant Bernard solo at the center – and toward the end, Charette throws a few jabs toward the snobs.

Royston proves to be the perfect sparring partner for Charette’s boisterous, googly-eyed ELP riffage in the sardonically titled Not a Purist. Sharpie Moustache, a funky shuffle with a droll Zombies quote and a gorgeous oldschool soul chorus, might be a Jimmy Smith homage – remember how he had that retro facial hair thing going on?

Bernard’s sparkly hammer-ons move front and center as the latin-tinged vamp Disco Nap gets underway. The album’s best and most riveting number is Hungarian Major, a creepy, chromatically fueled, genre-defying piece, Bernard’s bell tones glimmering against Charette’s funereal Balkan syncopation. Is this Eastern European art-rock? Romany jazz? Circus music? How about all of the above?

After the sly, satirically-infused previous two downtown New York numbers, Avenue A has a disarming wistfulness set to a calm clave groove. Damn, back when the LES was Loaisaida, it sure was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? Likewise, Detours, a catchy swing anthem, leaves no doubt that taking the long way this time around was the right move, Bernard’s catchy, looping riffage setting the stage for Royston to rumble.

Charette contrasts murky atmospherics and woozily loopy pedal lines with a deadpan, lackadaisical pop hook throughout Split Black – a psychological term for how borderline personalities go off the deep end.  A hazy southern soul-tinged waltz, White Lies brings to mind similar low-key collaborations between Jimmy Smith and Jim Hall. The album winds up with the oldschool 60s-style shuffle The Vague Reply, both Bernard and Royston getting plenty of room to raise the energy level. By now, it’s clear that Charette doesn’t give a damn – he’s going to do what he always does without any regard for limitations. Best case scenario is that he brings some new fans into the organ demimonde while managing to to drag the purists into his camp without any kicking and screaming.

July 12, 2015 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Literate New Soul and Erudite Organ Jazz Cross-Pollination at the Delancey

Fun and interesting show this past Thursday night at the Delancey with tantalizingly brief sets from soul singer/bandleader Amana Melome and paradigm-shifting jazz organist Brian Charette and his Mighty Grinders trio with Will Bernard on guitar and Eric Kalb on drums. Melome has Ellington band royalty in her veins – her bassist grandfather Jimmy Woode was a member of the Ellington orchestra and played with many other golden age jazz names as well. The Stockholm-based chanteuse maintained a low-key vibe, drawing the crowd in with her simmering, jazz-inflected downtempo and soul grooves. Backed by an electric pianist who varied his textures from song to song plus a tersely swinging acoustic rhythm section, Melome aired out a mix of tunes from her latest ep Lock and Key. Like her music, her misty mezzo-soprano vocals build a mood and explore its intricacies and secret corners rather than wailing or pleading. Her most intriguing and original number was Icarus, which recast the myth as a tribute to thrill-seeking rather than cautionary tale. Other than emo and grunge, neosoul may be the unsexiest style of music on the planet, but Melome keeps it real and could elevate a lot of people along with her.

Charette is an intrepid player, as influenced by classical music and dub as he is by the icons of jazz organ. And he can be awfully funny – he’s the kind of guy who will get a crowd grinning and shaking their heads and asking each other, did he just play that? Uh huh, he did. As usual, he couldn’t resist throwing in a handful of droll quotes when least expected – and he’ll play anywhere. The Delancey is a rock club, but Charette was clearly amped to take the gig. He opened with the shapeshifting Yue Fei, from his Square One album and then followed with the LOL faux-operatic bombast of the tongue-in-cheek Not a Purist: welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends, step inside, step inside, he seemed to be telling the crowd.

Then he flipped the script with Hungarian Brown, a trickily rhythmic, haunting Romany melody fueled by Bernard’s searing slide work: who knew he had that up his sleeve. Charette and the band wound up the night with an expansively funky take of Jimmy Smith’s 8 Counts for Rita, leaving no doubt that was where James Brown – who got his start as an organist – found his first inspiration.

Charette’s next gig is at 8 PM this Friday, March 27 at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s Place with Matt Chertkoff on guitar and Jordan Young on drums, his last New York show before heading off to the Czech Republic where he’ll be touring next month as part of powerhouse saxophonist Mike DiRubbo‘s trio.

March 24, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trying to Keep Up with Organ Individualist Brian Charette

Brian Charette is one of the world’s most interesting and distinctive voices on the organ. Classically trained, he’s made his name in jazz although his music is just as informed by classic 60s soul, funk and even reggae. He tours constantly and writes prolifically, and he’s playing the album release for his latest one, Good Tipper; tonight and also tomorrow night, Oct 9 at Smalls at 10 PM; cover is $20 and includes a drink. Joining him for the album show are Yotam Silberstein on guitar and Mark Ferber – who really has a feel for this funky groove stuff – on drums.

The album BEFORE the latest one (yeah – the guy works fast) is a Posi-Tone release, streaming at Spotify, titled Square One. Charette has a devious sense of humor and that’s apparent right from the jaunty strut of the opening track, Aaight!, which eventually squares itself more or less into a swinging shuffle. Charette and Silberstein move more frantically yet purposefully over Ferber’s blistering yet nimble pulse on their take of Joe Henderson’s If, followed by the vintage soul-infused Three for Martina, a metrically tricky ballad with organ and then guitar holding to a warmly reflective mood.

People on Trains follows a wryly lyrical narrative: the subway takes its time pulling out of the station and then scurries along, fueled by the guitar, then the process repeats itself. It isn’t long before Charette throws in a New York-centric subway joke or two (the album cover pictures him chilling down under the Manhattan Bridge). Likewise, True Love kicks off slowly before Charette pulls it out of its balmy reverie, then Silberstein takes it back with a minimalist, practically Satie-esque solo. Then they get a swaying groove going with a warmly purposeful take of the Meters’ classic Ease Back, Silberstein adding droll wah-wah licks.

Time Changes alludes to a famous Dave Brubeck album: it’s a jazz waltz with summery soul riffage. A Fantasy does much the same with trickier rhythms and spiraling solos from guitar and drums against Charette’s anthemic washes. Yei Fei is a blend of indie classical circularity and hints of airily eerie Jehan Alain church organ music: you might not think that something like this would work, but it does. Things You Don’t Mean mixes up a strutting New Orleans funk groove with a hardbop guitar attack and then an absolutely creepy quote and variations from the Alain songbook: it’s killing, Charette at his outside-the-box best. The album sprints to the finish line with Ten Bars for Eddie Harris, the most trad organ-lounge track here – but even that goes off the rails into a deliciously warped interlude. Who is the audience for this? People who like Dr. Lonnie Smith, jambands, funk and soul and sophisticated original jazz tunesmithing, which is ultimately what this is.

October 8, 2014 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Music, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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