Isn’t it funny how the world’s full of bad guitarists…bad sax players…bad drummers…but when you think about it, how many bad B3 players are there? For one reason or another, that’s one instrument that seems to draw an endless supply of passionate players. One of the most energetic of all of them is longtime Pat Martino collaborator Tony Monaco, who has a massive double cd release, Celebration, a “limited edition” out from Summit. What Monaco writes and plays is a sophisticated update on boisterous afterwork 60s organ-lounge jazz, more Bombay martini than gin and water. Monaco’s typical m.o. – which he actually varies from frequently here – is to open with a blistering, machinegun solo followed by tuneful restatements of the melody. For someone as fast and furious as this guy, it’s impressive how he doesn’t waste notes. Just as impressive is his command of an eclectic mix of styles.
The first cd is mainly trio or quartet numbers featuring Ken Fowser on tenor sax, Jason Brown or Reggie Jackson on drums and Derek DiCenzo on guitar. With its jaunty, Bud Powell-esque hooks, the most memorable track here is Fowser’s Ninety Five, a cut that originally appeared on the saxophonist’s brilliant 2010 collaboration with vibraphonist Behn Gillece; Monaco takes it in more of a vintage soul direction. Throughout these songs, Fowser’s misty, airy lines create a nifty balance with Monaco’s irrepressible intensity, whether on the Lonnie Smith-flavored Daddy Oh, the lickety-split shuffle Aglio e Olio, or the lurid, minor-key boudoir jazz of Indonesian Nights, which nails the kind of vibe Grover Washington Jr. was trying to do in the 80s but didn’t have the right arrangements for.
The endless parade of styles continues with a pretty bossa tune turned in a much darker direction with Monaco’s funereal timbres beneath Fowser’s bracing microtones, followed by what could be termed a B3 tone poem. Guest pianist Asako Itoh’s You Rock My World takes a familiar soul/funk groove and adds a terse, biting edge; there’s also a gospel number complete with church choir; the off-center, bustling Bull Years, which eventually smoothes out into a soul/blues shuffle; the carefree, wry It’s Been So Nice To Be With You and a scampering Jimmy Smith homage.
The second disc is just as eclectic and features a rotating cast of characters including guitarists Bruce Forman, Ted Quinlan and Robert Kraut, drummers Byron Landham, Vito Rezza, Louis Tsamous and Adam Nussbaum, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trombonist Sarah Morrow and trumpeter Kenny Rampton. There’s even a Joey Defrancesco cameo (liner notes indicating who’s where would have been useful, at least in terms of giving credit where due). In general, this material is more funk-infused, with soulful, judiciously bluesy guitar (that Monaco could get such consistency out of so many players is impressive). Monaco’s rapidfire cascades and tidal chords set the tone on the opening number, Acid Wash; Rampton’s animated lines elevate the shuffling Backward Shack, the guitar throwing off some unexpected Chet Atkins lines. There are a couple of extended numbers here, both of them choice: the practically ten-minute, aptly titled Takin’ My Time, with its long launching pad of an organ crescendo, and the even longer Slow Down Sagg, where Monaco finally goes off into wild noise as it reaches critical mass. There’s also Booker T. Jones style soul, a couple of blues numbers, a jump blues and a couple of gospel tunes, all delivered with passion and virtuosity. Any fan of organ jazz who doesn’t know this guy is missing out: count this among the most enjoyable jazz releases of 2012, all 133 minutes of it.
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.
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.
Maybe because today is a grade A grey day (to steal a line out of the Wade Schuman songbook), albums like jazz guitarist Tomas Janzon’s new one, Experiences, sound expecially good. Case in point: Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here’s That Rainy Day, which opens it. His raindrop approach is just understated enough to avoid being obvious. Janzon is well-known in Sweden; this seems to be an attempt to broaden his horizons outside his native land, and it ought to work. He takes a smart, laid-back, purist approach: Wes Montgomery is the obvious influence, but only one of many. His band is choice. Legendary Coltrane drummer Tootie Heath, in uncannily subtle mode, absolutely owns this album, coloring the songs with a quiet deviousness that sometimes spills over into unrestrained glee, alongside fellow veteran Art Hillery on piano and organ and Herbie Hancock sideman Jeff Littleton on bass.
Dave Brubeck’s Mr. Broadway gets a devious, somewhat furtive organ-and-guitar treatment, playing up its tongue-in-cheek humor even more than the original. Heath carries The Float, an original, alternating between an artful jazz waltz shuffle and cymbal-driven atmospherics, later enjoying a sly conversation with Littleton when the bass solos. A pretty Swedish folk song gets a treatment that’s part Wes and part McCartney, with a brief, solo live reprise at the end of the album. Moanin’ gives a quick nod to Jerry Garcia, Janzon’s warmly soul-tinged lines over Hillery’s staccato chords and Heath’s winking, on-and-off shuffle.
Yet another jazz waltz, Montgomery’s Full House, as Janzon wryly alludes in the liner notes, “adds nothing” to the original, but it’s inspired and true to form nonetheless. There’s also the pensively shuffling original Blue Bee; spiky, impressively spacious versions of Billie’s Bounce and Polka Dots and Moonbeams, and a terse, purist, bluesy cover of Jimmy Smith’s Messin’ Around. American guitar jazz fans should check out this guy stateside when he’s not in his dear old Stockholm.
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.
Why do people love gypsy jazz? Because it’s fun. Musicians get into this stuff A) because they can (it’s not easy to play) and B) because somewhere there’s always a gig waiting to happen. Club owners who know that gypsy jazz exists know that it keeps the crowd in the house. But what differentiates the Hot Club of Detroit from the legions of other talented players who’ve memorized every Django Reinhardt lick? This band pushes the envelope. What’s coolest about Hot Club of Detroit, and especially this new album is that what they do is just as jazz as it is gypsy. And they vary the mood a lot more than most of their compatriots – this isn’t all lickety-split toe-tappin’ music. You can hear it in the joyous reed riffage that kicks off the opening track, On the Steps; in the deviousness of the tempo shift halfway through their vigorous version of Mingus’ Nostalgia in Times Square (that they’d choose a Mingus song to cover pretty much says it all); and throughout reed player Carl Cafagna’s shuffle Restless Twilight. That one could be a Jimmy Smith song, substituting Paul Brady’s staccato acoustic rhythm guitar and Andrew Kratzat’s bass for the organ.
For Stephane, by lead guitarist Evan Perri, imagines a Grappelli line shifting between the instruments (and then Cafagna throws an absurdly hilarious quote in toward the end). The summery, expansive Papillon, by accordionist Julien Labro gives Kratzat one of several opportunities to darken the mood with a stark, bowed solo. And they put their own stamp on the classics here: Django’s Duke and Dukie (those were his cats) swings with a visceral recklessness; an aptly brooding cover of the famous Chopin E Major Etude vividly contrasts spiky acoustic guitar with pensive clarinet. There’s plenty to enjoy for purist fans of Reinhardt and Grappelli, but the real joy in this album is when the band takes it to unexpected places. It’s just out on Mack Avenue.
After seeing Serena Jost’s triumphant performance at Joe’s Pub, winding down was not an option. Rev. Vince Anderson’s weekly gospel show at Black Betty proved to be the perfect choice of detour. By about a quarter after eleven, he’d already begun his first set and was jamming out on a funky gospel groove, using the very authentic-sounding Hammond B3 setting on his Nord Electro keyboard. It was like wandering into a random bar and seeing Jimmy Smith in mid-set. And it looks like the NYU Class of 2012 has discovered Rev. Vince. If this particular sampling is any indication, this class dances. Which is a great thing. At first glance, it was impossible to tell the faux-bohemians from the faux-faux-bohemians. But a second glance revealed a clear distinction: the real faux-bohemians maintain their habitually stoned distance. The fake phonies’ intoxicant of choice is Jagermeister.
Faux-bohemianism has been commodified to the point that any rat from a mall with an Urban Outfitters can declare himself or herself a trendoid. And now there are even European trendoids wandering Williamsburg, casting icky looks at the remaining nonwhite establishments, murmuring to each other in French slang. And old trendoids too! Fat, graying old guys who had the good sense to get out of dotcom stocks before the bubble burst, then eight years down the road dumped the wife and kids and can now be seen in fullblown midlife crisis with a gold-digging girl (or boy) from Pratt on the arm, gazing upward in search of “for sale” signs on the dark towers of Mordor across the park from Bedford. Being a trendoid was never anything more than a pose, anyway. It’ll be good to be rid of the whole thing. Passion is the new detachment! Excitement is the new boredom! And Rev. Vince is leading the way, with the class of 2012 in tow.
As the Rev. told the audience, if an interviewer wants to talk about church, and their first question is about a parishioner, good things are happening. He’d been interviewed a couple of days previously, and the first thing the writer asked him was about one particular “parishioner” who regularly shows up every week and dances deliriously for practically three hours, as long as the Rev. and his band are onstage. Tonight happened to be the guy’s birthday. He’s not someone you’d mistake for a dancer if you saw him on the street: he’s a pretty hefty dude who looks like he spends his non-dancing hours lying around eating bags and bags of junk food. But the Rev., who as recently as a year ago tipped the scales at over two hundred pounds, apparently sees a kindred spirit in him. Like his mentor, the Rev. works in mysterious ways, and instead of offering a hale, hearty HAPPY BIRTHDAY, he needled the guy. “Don’t be afraid,” he cautioned him, launching into the reliable crowd-pleaser Bon Voyage, the boisterous tale of an Irish wake, from Anderson’s first album. Anderson brought the birthday kid up with him behind the keyboard and eventually handed him the microphone, taking a mincing, somewhat sarcastic piano solo on the high keys that was straight out of Mozart – or Liberace. In an impressively penetrating falsetto, the big dude led the the ladies in the audience in a call-and-response. Now this guy is anything but a trendoid. Dancing with wild abandon in front of a crowd of sneering anorexics takes a lot of guts if you are the antithesis of what they are, and Anderson seized on this. A church where a big fat dancing guy with a falsetto is welcome is simply a great place to be. It’s our kind of church, and this was our kind of show.
And the band was great as always. They did a soulful, slowly crescendoing take of Anderson’s new song about the breakup of a longtime relationship and a long, sizzling, completely funked-out version of his song Come to the River, rising to delirious heights. The horn section of Dave Smith on trombone and Paula Henderson on baritone sax alternated between subtlety and exuberance, and Anderson was in particularly wild, frenetic mode on the keys. If there’s any criticism of how this band has developed, it’s that Henderson doesn’t get to take as many solos as she used to now that they have the trombone. But that’s what her band Moisturizer is for.