Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Purist Guitarist Ed Cherry Brings His Soulful Organ Trio to Smalls

Guitarist Ed Cherry’s new album Soul Tree is both trad and unorthodox. When’s the last time you heard of a guitarist leading a B3 organ jazz trio? Usually it’s the organist – Jimmy Smith set the precedent with Jim Hall on guitar, right? But Cherry’s done this before, and his elegant, no-nonsense, chordal-and-blues approach works especially well in this configuration. As usual, he plays with a clean, purist 60s tone with a generous amount of reverb, looking back to Wes Montgomery more on this album than he has in the recent past. He’s playing the release show with his trio – Kyle Koehler on the organ and the Captain Black Big Band’s Anwar Marshall on drums – at Smalls on March 30 at 10 PM. Cover is $20 and includes a drink. With its dusky ambience, Smalls is a good place to see organ jazz, and the sound there is a lot better than it would have been at the gutbucket venues that were home to this stuff a half-century ago.

The album opens on a wry note with a cover of Kool & the Gang’s Let The Music Take Your Mind, reinvented as a swinging New Orleans second line-tinged groove. Aside from the originals here, the other tracks are often hardly what you would expect from an an organ trio. The three do Jimmy Heath’s A New Blue with a spacious midtempo swing: Marshall benefits from an imaginative and similarly vast production which pans cymbals right and left, maxing out the room’s natural reverb along with his vividly misty attack. The first of the Cherry originals, Rachel’s Step, is a latin-inflected shuffle that hits a peak with the guitarist’s jaunty cha-cha of a solo midway through.

The trio do Mal Waldron’s. Soul Eyes as a clave ballad; Cherry’s almost impeceptible drive upwards to a delicious and all-too-brief series of jabs draws on a background that goes back decades, with Dizzy Gillespie and other major figures. Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower vamps along on carefree soul-jazz groove, Cherry building a Wes vibe with his octaves. The other Cherry original here, Little Girl Big Girl works similar territory over laid-back swing, giving Koehler a chance to cut loose.

Marshall builds the Trane classic Central Park West with a nimbly tumbling attack as Cherry bobs and weaves gradefull,, Koehler maintaining a low-key bluesiness as he does throughout the album. Harold Land’s Ode to Angela blends Marshall’s masterful, whispery clave with Cherry’s lingering, summery lines; Koehler’s lyrical solo might be the best one on the whole album. The classic Dave Brubeck ballad In Your Own Sweet Way gets the most hubristic treatment here: it’s barely recognizable. The album winds up with Horace Silver’s Peace, another showcase for Marshall’s meticulous brushwork and the band’s friendly chemistry. Most B3 groove albums are party records; counterintuitively, this one is more spare and reflective. Big up to Cherry for taking the style to a new place. Posi-Tone, home to more good postbop than any other record label still extant, gets credit for putting this one out. It hasn’t officially hit yet, but there’s a track up at their Soundcloud page.

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March 26, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Soulful Mary Lou Williams Tribute from Virginia Mayhew

This blog doesn’t spend much time in the past these days: if you’re just getting into jazz and discovering the classics for the first time, there are plenty of places to do that and this isn’t usually one of them. For that reason, coverage of recordings here typically focuses on original material by artists who are usually if not always flying a little under the radar. But every so often an album appears that offers a fresh take on older sounds. Tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew’s recent quartet album, Mary Lou Williams – The Next 100 Years is a delightful example.

For starters, just the idea of doing a Williams homage without piano is intriguing. But maybe it’s just as well – it saves some piano player from cruel comparisons. This album also gives guitarist Ed Cherry – who explores a whole ‘nother side on his jaunty new B3 record, It’s All Good – a chance to go deep into moody blues. Williams’ long career spanned from the hot jazz era of the 20s to the avant garde of the 70s; like Williams, Mayhew is comfortable in diverse milieus from inside to out. Rounding out the group here are bassist Harvie S and drummer Andy Watson, plus contributions from Wycliffe Gordon on trombone.

The songs here are often disarmingly beautiful: Williams had a rare command of the blues and a laserlike, uncluttered sense of melody, which the band grasps impressively. They take their time getting into J.B.’s Waltz – one of a number of jazz waltzes here – and work there way up to an absolutely gorgeous, chordally-infused Cherry solo. Medi II follows a moody chromatic trajectory to some wry, almost vaudevillian fun from the rhythm section. By contrast, Medi I, a 1973 piece alternately titled Searching for Love is a nonchalantly intense soul/blues tune – it sounds a lot like Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue – dark stuff lit up with vivid and spacious Mayhew and Cherry solos.

The 1954 tune O.W., inspired by Don Byas, swings a minor blues with incisive, staccato work from bass, sax and guitar in turn, followed by the richly suspenseful Cancer, from Williams’ 1945 Zodiac Suite, twelve minutes of judicious chromatic intensity and a fleet-footed, terse Mayhew solo. What’s Your Story Morning Glory – the original version of the standard Black Coffee, for which Williams was never credited -sounds here like it’s the prototype for One for My Baby. Mayhew does this as a story for two voices, first wistful in the wee hours with the sax and guitar and ending by contrasting against Gordon’s completely unexpected, comedic lines.

NME – short for New Musical Express – draws inspiration from Byas and also the Ellington band, a vividly flurrying swing tune. The last of the Williams numbers is Waltz Boogie, one of her catchiest. Mayhew also includes two inspired originals. The first is the nebulously Monk-ish One for Mary Lou, which the saxophonist builds to an allusive triumph – to swing it would be too obvious. The album closes with the warmly bluesy, relaxed 5 For Mary Lou. Beyond what they offer musically, albums like this serve other purposes – they make you want to revisit the originals as well as to go deeper into the works of a bandleader who completely gets what this music is all about: soul.

Mayhew is also featured on another soulful recent revisitation of vintage material, the Duke Ellington Legacy’s Single Petal of a Rose.

November 12, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sweet Soulful B3 Grooves from Ed Cherry and Pat Bianchi

It’s unusual that a month goes by without a B3 album on this page at some point. For some people, funky organ grooves can be overkill; others (guess who) can’t get enough of them. Veteran guitarist Ed Cherry knows a little something about them, considering his association with the guy who might have been the greatest of all Hammond groovemeisters, Jimmy Smith. Cherry’s new album It’s All Good – recently out on Posi-Tone – might sound like a boast, but he backs it up, imaginatively and energetically reinventing a bunch of popular and familiar tunes and in the processs rediscovering their inner soul and blues roots. His accomplice on the B3 is Pat Bianchi, who has blinding speed and an aptitude for pyrotechnics; Cherry gives him a long leash, with predictably adrenalizing results. Drummer Byron Landham’s assignment is simply to keep things tight, which he does effortlessly. Needless to say, Wayne Shorter’s Edda and Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage probably aren’t the first tunes that come to mind as potential material for organ trio, but this crew pulls them off.

The former is done as a jazz waltz, Cherry alternating between hammer-on chordal variations, southern soul mingling with bent-note runs and some bracingly spinning chromatics. The latter is a more traditional B3 swing tune with lots of suave Wes Montgomery-isms. They go fishing for the inner blues in You Don’t Know What Love Is, give In a Sentimental Mood a rather unsentimental nonchalance, then pick up the pace with Kenny Burrell’s Chitlins Con Carne, Landham digging in harder, Cherry building a sunbaked tension as Bianchi spirals and swells.

The most expansive track here, Duke Pearson’s Christo Redentor picks it up even further, Bianchi adding a chromatically-fueled burn, Cherry finally cutting loose with a rapidfire series of flurries out of the second chorus. Another Shorter tune, Deluge, alternates betwen laid-back urbanity and freewheeling soul-blues, while Bill Evans’ Blue in Green gets reinvented as a samba, with one of Bianchi’s wickedest solos.

There are also a couple of Cherry originals here. Mogadishu is jaunty and conversational; the brisk shuffle Something for Charlie (a Charles Earland homage, maybe?) gives the guitarist a platform for his most energetic work here. There’s also a version of Epistrophy that quickly trades in carnivalesque menace for a greasy groove. There’s plenty of terse, thoughtfully animated tunefulness here for fans of both purist guitar jazz and the mighty B3.

October 22, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jared Gold Pushes the B3 Envelope

In a way, organist Jared Gold is to the Posi-Tone label what Willie Dixon was to Chess: he seems to be on practically all their records. And why not? He’s a good player, and he’s literally never made a bad album. His fifth as a bandleader, Golden Child, has been out for a few months: fans of organ jazz who’re looking for something imaginative and different should check out this unpredictable effort, by far his most original and cutting-edge album to date. His 2010 album Out of Line was 60s vamps; All Wrapped Up, from 2011, was a diverse effort with horns that explored swing, noir and New Orleans styles. This album finds him pushing the envelope a la Larry Young without referencing Young directly: it’s about as far from “Chicken Shack music” as you can possibly get. How radical is this? Rhythmically, most (but not all) of this is familiar B3 grooves, Gold walking the pedals with a brisk precision over drummer Quincy Davis’ terse shuffles; tunewise, a lot of this is pretty far out there. Track after track, Gold defiantly resists resolution, pushing consonance away in favor of an allusive, sometimes mysterious melodic language that changes vernacular constantly. Gold doesn’t stay with any particular idea long – a typical song here goes from atmospherically chordal to bits of warped blues phrasing, hammering staccato atonalities and momentary cadenzas in the span of thirty seconds or less. Guitarist Ed Cherry is the cheery one here and makes an apt foil for Gold, holding the melodic center, such that it is.

The slowly shuffling, syncopated opening take of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come takes the same liberties with the melody that Cooke would take with the rhythm when he sang it live: much of it is unrecognizable, and for the better, it’s not like we need another slavishly reverential cover of this song. The album closes with the most off-center cover of When It’s Sleepy Time Down South you’ll ever hear: although it swings, Satchmo himself might not recognize it. And Gold reinvents Johnny Nash’s cloying rocksteady hit I Can See Clearly Now with more than a little gleeful irony: this twisted reworking is nothing like what you hear in the supermarket. Gold starts with a particularly abrasive setting on the organ, hints at the blues, abruptly shifts from major to minor, all along peppering his digressions with fragments of the original as Cherry pulls it in the direction of Memphis soul (a style he mines here very memorably). The first of the Gold originals, Hold That Thought develops with a vivid sense of anticipation that never delivers any expected payoff, Davis’ flurrying breaks adding to the tension. The title track is all allusion: an out-of-focus ballad, unsettling rhythmic shifts, a nicely casual but biting, chromatically-charged Cherry solo and refusenik blues by Gold. Their cover of Wichita Lineman goes for wide-angle angst for a second before taking the theme in and out a la the Johnny Nash track, over and over before Cherry finally brings it into momentary focus right before the end.

Cherry’s tastefully terse blues and Memphis phrasing serve as sweetness versus Gold’s atonalities on another original, 14 Carat Gold, a sardonic midtempo soul strut. Likewise, their takes on a spiritual, I Wanna Walk and a bit later, In a Sentimental Mood both take familiar tropes and warp them, Gold simply refusing to hit the changes head on: and then, on the Ellington, just as it looks like it’s going to be all weird substitutions and no wave, Cherry dives in with aplomb and sends it out with a jaunty chordal crescendo over Davis’ mini-hailstorm. Underneath the persistent melodic unease, there’s a lot of ironic humor here, most obviously on the practically frantic Times Up, Gold’s pedals sprinting nimbly in 5/4 and then cleverly shifting the tempo straight ahead, Cherry walking through the raindrops, Davis finally getting some space to play sniper, so he machineguns it. It’s a fair bet that years from now, organists will be citing this album as an important moment in the history of the genre – and the devious fun these guys are having becomes more apparent with repeated listening.

July 16, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments