Joey DeFrancesco: Fly Me to the Moon

I can appreciate the nuances of chamber jazz or Third Stream experimentation even when the music is recorded in the sterile solitude of the studio. But the organ trio always sounds best in a live setting. Maybe a scientist will someday discover that those Hammond drawbars have a hidden connection to the central nervous system, thus drawing on the collective energies of the audience. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy those memorable live recordings of the great organists of jazz past. On the current roster, Joey DeFrancesco holds pride of place, and establishes his credentials again on this live recording made in March 2009. As on those historic live albums by Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and other pioneering organ donors to our collective welfare, the fans make their presence felt on this track. One shouts out during the intro, and even while he is digging into the keys DeFrancesco acknowledges his father in the audience, Papa John DeFrancesco—an organist himself—who requested "Fly Me to the Moon." Papa can be proud. DeFrancesco pushes the groove even while displacing the underlying 6/8, along the way sneaking in "Everything's Coming Up Roses" as a bouquet for dear old dad. Even so, Paul Bollenback's guitar solo is the highlight for me here. When the band falls out, his conception goes so far beyond the conventional that you might think that he is moving to another song entirely. When he settles back into the changes, our trip to the moon resumes. I hope they have room on the capsule for the Hammond organ, just in case they have jazz clubs and live recordings up there.

October 29, 2009 · 0 comments


John McLaughlin: Thelonius Melodius

John McLaughlin's Free Spirits featured Dennis Chambers on drums and Joey DeFrancesco on organ. It was the standard B-3 organ jazz trio format that McLaughlin had always loved. Of course, this trio was different. The playing was more aggressive (read that as fusion) and music from a wider swath was played. I like the B-3 sound okay, and DeFrancesco is a killer player. But I have my limits on the instrument. Yet more than that, McLaughlin's guitar tone was so similar to DeFrancesco's organ that when they played together you couldn't hear McLaughlin. In concert this was less problematic because you could see, but it was still there. This performance of "Thelonius Melodius," recorded during the band's Blue Note gig that yielded their Tokyo Live, was not included on that earlier album. I suspect this track was mixed differently, since you can hear McLaughlin much better!

"Thelonius Melodius" is a whirling blues romp that in many ways harkens back to McLaughlin's Tony Williams Lifetime days. There are stops and starts, sudden minor chord progressions that take the piece off center, plenty of unison playing, and energetic calls and responses. The only thing missing from the Lifetime sound is the distortion. McLaughlin can be clearly heard on this cut. It was always such a shame to know that he was playing something fantastic yet we couldn't quite hear it on the Live album. The interplay between Chambers, DeFrancesco and McLaughlin is at telepathic levels. The Free Spirits was far from my favorite McLaughlin band. Still, they were killing. Ironically, if this performance had been on Tokyo Live it would have been the album's best cut.

February 25, 2009 · 0 comments


Larry Coryell: Wrong Is Right?

Recorded live in the studio by a riveting organ trio, "Wrong Is Right?" gathers a massive head of steam in its loose jam format, with attention-grabbing creativity much jazzier than Larry Coryell's original version from Spaces. That one contained many rough edges, but here Coryell, Coster and Smith smooth those out, adding sweetness and a more horizontal direction. The melody remains intact, but the group stays firmly entrenched within the boundaries defined by the chord chart and anchored by the dense weight of the written chords. It is a weighty mix, indeed, as Coster's electrifying Hammond splashes adeptly fill the spaces while adding true definition to the tune's spine.

When John McLaughlin ripped into his solo on the original, Coryell's chords were nearly indecipherable. Here, they are easy to identify in the mix, as there are fewer players to obscure their clarity. Also, with less chaos than on Spaces, Coryell and Coster find appropriate moments to take turns burning hot leads that recall high-velocity engines blazing around street corners in the summertime. You really should check this out.

February 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Greg Skaff: Tropicalia

According to the liner notes, "Tropicalia" was inspired by Greg Skaff's reading of Caetano Veloso's autobiography Tropical Truth: A Story of Music & Revolution in Brazil. Veloso is a musician and political activist and the father of Tropicalismo the melding of Brazilian pop, rock 'n' roll and avant-garde music, poetry and theater in part a protest to Brazil's military dictatorship of the 1960s.

In this classic demonstration of the art of the guitar/organ/drum trio, Messrs. Skaff, Colligan and Strickland prove they are up to carrying on the great tradition of those who went before them. Skaff, with a distinctly Wes Montgomery-sounding guitar tone, starts this piece with a samba-like octave riff that is repeated to set the melody line. The music evokes the image of lightly swaying palms in a windblown breeze. His solo excursions are smooth, mellow and inventive without any flash, in the tradition of the practitioners of this laid-back cool sound. Much-in-demand keyboardist Colligan, besides his well thought-out comping behind Skaff, offers his own brand of cool on a bouncy B-3 solo. Drummer E.J. Strickland keeps impeccable time throughout. As the tune enters the coda Skaff, sounding amazingly like White Rabbit-era Benson in his phrasing, trades riffs with Colligan, as Strickland actively punctuates the proceedings.

This trio gigged around the New York City area together before making this recording according to Colligan, in one sitting. They ably demonstrate how, when the spirit moves, you can cook with the coolness of dry ice.

January 26, 2009 · 0 comments


David Murray: In the Spirit

This session brought together, in David Murray and Don Pullen, two musicians whose styles confidently straddled post-bop and free jazz. The end result was similar to the inside-outside modus operandi of the provocative quartet Pullen co-led for years with tenorman George Adams, except on Shakill's Warrior Pullen plays organ instead of piano. Pullen had played organ in R&B groups in the 1960s and in Harlem nightclubs in the '70s, and was a soulfully proficient master of the instrument.

"In the Spirit" is a wonderful gospel-based Pullen composition given a mesmerizing performance. Murray softly delineates the luminous, prayerful theme, backed by Pullen's mellifluous long tones. Pullen's solo is remarkable in the way it combines reverent emotion with technical panache. Murray takes the prevailing sanctified spirit to even greater heights, utilizing winding, passionate lines and effective variations in dynamics. The melody's reprise is even more tenderly projected than in the initial reading, and Pullen also adds some tweeting, burbling references to the old spiritual "His Eye Is On the Sparrow." This is a woefully unrecognized classic Murray track.

January 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Richard "Groove" Holmes: Misty

Richard "Groove" Holmes's version of "Misty" is certainly sunnier than most renditions of the classic tune. Its infectious joyousness transcends its posh origins and changes them into a whiskey-soaked celebration of nightlife. The musicians go with the flow as the track increasingly sounds nothing like the chord chart after it gains full momentum. When the chart is referenced, though, it stands on its own despite the completely different interpretation. One reason this rendition stands out is that the surroundings were set long before it was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, whose presence often lures musicians into higher forms of expression. Here, his precision helps distill the live essence of Holmes in a tidy yet muscular package. From a production standpoint, Holmes also generates some progressive sounds for the era on his instrument, best represented by a series of dual-fisted chords sustained for several measures and resulting in high-end sonic clashes that echo each other. The analog effect was created prior to the digital age, and, when considering that amplified electric guitar is played here with more punch than usual on a jazz recording from 1965, the approach can be considered an example of fusion in its infancy.

December 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Pat Martino: Oleo

The first thing that listeners will notice about "Oleo" is Joey DeFrancesco's organ sound, which is certainly a throwback to the Swingin' Sixties. Although prominently featured, he keeps the chord base simple as Pat Martino's 6-string prowess takes center stage on this amazing concert recording. Taut, driving rhythms provide release as Martino's fingers fly on the fretboard at a frenetic pace. Emotions run sky high as it sounds as though Martino is singing for his supper. Given this tasty jam, I say punch his meal ticket immediately if there's any way you can afford to do so.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Bryan Beninghove: Adam's Apple

Count me in as one of those who likes to hear a dirty B-3. Anything that changes the purity of that instrument's sound is a plus in my book. On Wayne Shorter's "Adam's Apple," organist Kyle Koehler employs distortion to great effect. His sound, not style, harkens back to Larry Young circa 1970. Style-wise the trio, under the leadership of saxophonist Beninghove, rocks out the number la Medeski Martin and Wood. The trio is more into the blues than MMW and has a broader melodic component because of its two lead instruments. But the vibe is the same. This is music that should resonate with the same audience. Beninghove is John Klemmer on steroids. He is a powerful and expressive player. Drummer Williams played with the great Jimmy Smith. He knows how to play behind and push an organ trio. This is high-octane music that will lift you out of any malaise. It sure got a raucous cheer from the crowd it was performed for.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Organissimo: Groovadelphia

You can't kill the Hammond organ with a stick. In recent years its signature sound is becoming once again a familiar voice in modern music. This is beneficial for the Hammond factory but not necessarily great for the rest of us. The instrument has a tendency to become monotonous if not played in the most creative ways. A Hammond organ does not an organ trio make. But if you have a player with monster chops and the right attitude, nothing can beat the groove from this machine. Jim Alfredson fits that bill. On one tune after another on Groovadelphia, he and his bandmates jump in the pocket.

Named after the band's home away from home, "Groovadelphia" is a choppy blues number. Marsh's churning drums propel a funky back-and-forth between Alfredson and guitarist Gloss. From time to time the two pleasingly double. Alfredson takes a grinding solo. Gloss's blues-funk turn suggests distortion without playing it. Once these guys lock in, a crowbar is needed to disengage them. The vibe is magnetic. Head bopping is not a choice in this matter. The music makes it mandatory.

Score: Hammond organ 1. Stick 0.

July 22, 2008 · 2 comments


Bryan Beninghove: Tape Side Up

Recorded in the hometown of "Old Blue Eyes," a tight little trio of working musicians who are keeping the organ trio format alive and well has produced an independent offering worth a listen. With a familiar but funky sound on "Tape Side Up," Beninghove has a Maceo Parker raspiness to his deep-throated tenor. He wails with gusto. Meanwhile, Koehler follows in the tradition of such Hammond B-3 heavyweights as Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco with his own brand of funk on this versatile and seemingly resurgent instrument. The beat is pushed along nicely by Williams, an alumnus of organ masters Smith and Jimmy McGriff, and the group shows it can really groove. What is it about New Jersey and organ trios? It seems to be a local thing, but as a born-and-bred Jersey boy I relate with no problem. This is not groundbreaking music or for that matter overly inventive, but for those of us who are drawn to that B-3 sound when we hear it, the music grooves.

July 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Jimmy Smith: Blues For J

Organ Grinder Swing, a trio session, was a rarity during Jimmy Smith's heavily orchestrated Verve years. The appealing title cut got most of the jazz radio airplay, so unless you picked up the LP, the organist's remarkable solo on "Blues for J" could easily have gone unheard. The sinuous, slightly sinister-sounding theme is played in unison by Smith and Burrell, but after the guitarist's brief solo, Smith takes over for the duration. His elaborate organ runs are punched out with both great speed and crystal-clear articulation, while a ceaseless bassline is maintained on his foot pedals. Smith then introduces an emphatic sustained note over which he plays truncated, expressive phrases. This is bop-based soulful blues, accompanied and personalized by Smith's own verbal moans and grunts as he creates one of his finest solos. Has there ever been another musician in jazz so influential and dominant on one instrument as Smith was on organ? Probably not.

May 08, 2008 · 1 comment


Adam Levy: Dear John

Adam Levy might be best known for his guitar work in Norah Jones's touring band, yet Levy has been adding tasteful, atmospheric guitar playing to countless jazz and rock records and tours for many years. His solo recordings lean towards the jazz side of the spectrum, especially this career highlight featuring the famed Larry Goldings on organ and the fine, underused drumming of Bill Frisell/Electric Masada alumnus Kenny Wollesen. While most tunes named "Dear John" in the jazz world are sure to be a tip of the hat to Trane, I would wager that Levy is honoring Mr. Scofield here. The laid-back, New Orleans "twang" instantly associated with both Sco's overall groove and specific guitar sound are in full effect here. Scofield alum Goldings is right at home and playing at the top of his game. Levy's solo work is spacious and tasteful (never "chopsy"), and Wollesen's Elvin-esque five- and seven-stroke rolls are spot-on throughout this track.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments


John Abercrombie: Long Ago and Far Away

The guitar/organ/drums combo, so fashionable in the 1960s, was revived in the '80, but no one gave a more personal version of it than Abercrombie, Wall and Nussbaum. The first two musicians definitely take an unconventional approach to their instruments. The guitar's long, almost liquid lines and subtle chords find in the organ's soft, yet firm phrasing a perfect companion. Nussbaum's drums help them find ways of swinging that take them far from the groovy clichs attached to the origins of this type of combo. The way they carry this timeless standard way beyond most other versions bears witness to the utter originality of this trio.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Vince Seneri: Prince's Groove

If you are a nostalgic sucker for the grooving funky sound that only a well-played Hammond B-3 with Leslie Speakers can deliver, then you will find this self-produced offering from relatively obscure organ grinder Vince Seneri and some better known friends to be just what the doctor ordered. Seneri, aka The Prince, hails from the Garden State and has seemingly been able to keep alive the tradition of the B-3 in all its funky glory. On "Prince's Groove," Seneri is joined to great effect by Randy Brecker's soulful trumpeting, sweet guitar lines from Joey DeFrancesco's sideman Paul Bollenback, and a steady beat by Buddy Williams and Gary Fritz. Throughout this slow cooker, I am reminded of the nights when you could step into almost any dark, smoke-filled Jersey club and hear the bright, clear sounds of a B-3 played by such artisans as Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland or Jimmy McGriff, not to mention dozens of less celebrated practitioners. Seneri's mastery of this band-in-a-box is substantial, and despite his manicured appearance, this boy can get down and dirty with his instrument. While not ground-breaking, this music is thoroughly enjoyable and well worth a listen.

February 22, 2008 · 1 comment


Larry Young: Testifying

Organist Larry Young used to go over to John Coltrane's house and jam with him. But he was best known for his groundbreaking fusion performances with Tony Williams Lifetime, and his later appearance with John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana on Love Devotion Surrender. In the late '70s he put out some far-out solo material that never quite caught on. At age 37, he died tragically from pneumonia.

Fusion fans were used to Young playing notes that were so distorted and high-register that only dogs could hear them. But he didn't always play that way. Many fans were blithely unaware of Young's straight-ahead roots. Young's earliest recordings were very much standard jazz and blues based. Part gospel, part jazz and mostly blues, "Testifying" was an early indication that Jimmy Smith, Young's more famous organ contemporary, had something to worry about! Young brought a gutbucket soul to the blues. The tune's catchy melody was nothing special. But the young Young (I couldn't help myself) used it to slowly grind some meat. Throw in some simple fillers from Schwartz and drummer Smith, and you end-up with some fine ground chuck.

February 17, 2008 · 0 comments


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