Eddy Louiss & Michel Petrucciani: Jean-Philippe Herbien

No one can dispute that organ-piano duet recordings are a rarity, but could this actually be the one and only such coupling? Given how Louiss and Petrucciani inspire and complement each other, it's a wonder why. The individual for whom this 10-minute track is named must be one very spirited and soulful guy, if the playing here is any indication. Petrucciani's percussive, bluesy opening is backed by Louiss's rumbling bassline, and moves directly into the pianist's admirably sustained extended solo, marked by an insistent pulse, pounding riffs, two-handed unison passages and rollicking single-note lines. Louiss follows in similarly extroverted fashion, a far cry from his low-key work on the outstanding 1971 Stan Getz Dynasty release. The duo then engages in exciting exchanges, feeding off and chasing one another's animated statements, and at one point dabbling with "Billie's Bounce," which this blues theme resembles. Then Petrucciani becomes quietly reverent and Louiss responds in kind, as they dampen the dynamic level before a return to the appealing melody. The playing of both Louiss and the late, great Petrucciani on this and the other selections from these three invigorating nights in Paris (a Vol. 2 is also available) ranks with the best of their respective careers.

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joey DeFrancesco: Impressions

To celebrate the reopening of Manhattan's 5 Spot nightclub, Joey DeFrancesco's band featured an alternating all-star tenor sax lineup to showcase that instrument's great tradition in Hammond B-3 organ ensembles. On "Impressions," the B-3 maven was joined by tenorman Kirk Whalum. (On other tracks, Illinois Jacquet, Grover Washington Jr., and Houston Person appear.) Whalum starts right out of the gate with some fine blowing on this straight-ahead swinging number, more than justifying DeFrancesco's concept for this live recording.

DeFrancesco, playing basslines, and drummer Landham make a fantastic rhythm section. Guitarist Bollenback handles the speedy changes with style and aplomb. And of course DeFrancesco, the most renowned B-3 organ master of the day, does his thing. The band cleverly avoids clichés and plays the familiar melody only at the very last minute. These are pros at work. Their version of "Impressions" leaves a good one.

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Vince Seneri: Overdrive

There are some days where abstractions just get in the way. The ears demand something direct and organic, something that swings like a life depended on it – something, in short, to make the morning grouchies wish they'd stayed in bed. While it's possible to "make ugly" with the Hammond B-3, Vince Seneri makes the right choice: to swing. With guitarist Paul Bollenback and the great Randy Brecker on trumpet, it would seem that a serving of "Overdrive" is in order if you have the desire to strip away the indirections that the world is so full of. By the time Seneri takes his blistering solo, you'll have forgotten why you were in a bad mood this morning.

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brother Jack McDuff: Moon Rappin'

An 8-track copy of “Moon Rappin’” should be stored safely in the dash of every 1970s Cadillac for emergency top-down cruising purposes. The bass-driven intro, supported by spacey guitar wahs, reverb-heavy, ringing piano chords and a smooth guitar counterpoint, establishes some untouchable funk that is both “get down” dirty and buttery slick. After the heavily textured melody meanders through a maze of unexpected harmonic twists and turns, McDuff rips over the original groove on his B-3 and then treats listeners to a rare acoustic piano solo. While the leader displays a surprisingly delicate touch, the group begins to ramble and things become a tad unfocused—perhaps a second soloist may have moved things along better. However, the flaws in execution are easily forgotten if you let yourself get lost in the groove. It’ll be well worth it.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Richard 'Groove' Holmes: Mr. Clean

Less overtly R&B than other rare grooves, the psychedelic “Mr. Clean” is more Bitches Brew than it is James Brown. The groove is urgent and pressing, and harmonically it explores a darker, more mysterious side of soul-jazz. Holmes uses a spacey echo effect during his solo, priming his B-3 and the rest of his bandmates for liftoff. There is an intense energy that rumbles throughout the track, occasionally peaking like the cresting and crashing of waves as the group navigates a precarious alien soundscape. “Mr. Clean” sounds like no other song in the Blue Note rare groove catalog, and that alone makes it an intriguing listen.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Son of Ice Bag

Having been steady organist in the bands of both Lou Donaldson and George Benson for almost three years, Lonnie Smith had plenty of experience before cutting his first Blue Note album as leader in 1968. Add the meaty frontline of Lee Morgan and “Fathead” Newman, and you get a rare groove that is not only funky but much more daring than your average soul-jazz session. The group sounds well rehearsed, and the arrangement is tight, yet there is an openness that gives the soloists the freedom to develop their solos modally and not simply string together regurgitated blues licks. Smith and company generate some highly creative, thoughtful improvisations that will encourage close listening. This is high-quality late-'60s jazz—straight, no chaser. It just happens to also be a hard groovin’ boogaloo.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmy McGriff: Back on the Track

Though he considers himself to be first and foremost a blues musician, Jimmy McGriff straddles the demarcating lines between R&B, gospel, funk and jazz more comfortably than any organist in any genre. Electric Funk sounds like the lost soundtrack to an unreleased blaxploitation film and its first cut, “Back On The Track,” would be perfect for the opening credits. The deep-pocket bassist lays down some serious funk and the mystery drummer is so nasty he’ll make DJs drool. Always deeply soulful, McGriff preaches his own gospel with short exclamatory licks to fill the space allotted him in Horace Ott’s simple yet effective “small big band” arrangement. A standout track on the funkiest record in the Blue Note stacks.

January 29, 2008 · 1 comment

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Reuben Wilson: Bus Ride

Reuben Wilson achieved little notoriety while recording for Blue Note (he was dropped from the label within three years) but has since become an acid-jazz legend and a favorite of DJs and rare groove fanatics. More lazy Saturday afternoon joyriding with a bellyful of soul food than rush-hour Manhattan with a fistful of coffee, “Bus Ride” is all strut and no sprint. The unison Meters-esque melody is relaxed and unhurried; the groove is soulful, inviting and warm. Melvin Sparks shows why he was the first-choice guitarist for so many soul-jazz sessions, and unknown drummer Tommy Derrick’s loose but deep-pocket groove makes one wonder why he wasn’t more in demand himself.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eddy Louiss and Michel Petrucciani: Summertime

Organ and piano duets are infrequent in jazz. But when it comes to musicians like Louiss and Petrucciani, the choice of the instrument is less relevant than the pleasure of the dialogue, and music flows so naturally from their fingers that it can almost be frightening. This is especially obvious on "Summertime," which has been played by almost everybody. Louiss's and Petrucciani's freshness and lack of over-sophistication return the song to its roots as a vehicle for improvisation. Moreover, in their hands these instruments make a gorgeous blend. Dialogue, pleasure, gorgeous blend … these musicians wouldn't be French, by any chance?

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joey DeFrancesco: Indiana

"Wow!" marveled Zoot Sims, watching the 1969 telecast as astronauts first set foot on the Moon. "Look at that! And I'm still playing 'Indiana'!" Thirty years later, Joey DeFrancesco was still playing "Indiana," a tune written in 1917. Thank God. Even for listeners not enamored of the Hammond B-3 organ-trio formation, this is one of those 11-minute jump-on-the-table scream-&-holler performances that will, as musicians say, swing you into bad health. Hell, this'll swing you into intensive care! Joey DeFrancesco, who always barrels his butt off (and, 'case you haven't noticed, that's a sizable appendage), outdoes himself. Wow! Listen to that!

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Scream

This live date is one of the more exciting soul-jazz records in the Blue Note catalog. Underappreciated organist Lonnie Smith leads the charge through this extended 18-bar jam, during which all soloists dive headfirst into the blues. Not only will listeners find an array of catchy blues licks, but some fine melodically inspired playing as well. Cuber’s slick and soulful choruses are the highlight, as he displays deft control of his big baritone. Dukes and Jones keep the energy high, layering polyrhythms that allow the groove to remain loose and elastic. Beware—this funk is contagious, but catching it will be worth it.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Chubb Sub

Medeski Martin & Wood deserve a lot of credit for getting young people into jazz by tricking them into confusing it with jam-band music a la Phish. These guys constitute an atypical organ trio – there’s an upright bass and no guitar, largely because they started off as a piano trio. Also, John Medeski plays all sorts of keyboards, not just Hammond B-3. “Chubb Sub,” one of the trio’s earlier recordings, has Medeski mostly on the Hammond but also on the Wurlitzer for a few bars. A solid groove of a number that was used to great effect in the film Get Shorty, it demonstrates that B-3 practitioners do not have to invoke Jimmy Smith every time they sit down. For one thing, these guys interact equally throughout the tune, as opposed to taking turns soloing. Wood’s loose-string plucking and Martin’s thick-sounding drumming create a different sort of aesthetic, and Medeski’s from-the-soul playing owes as much to Booker T. & the MG’s as to Smith and his ilk.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment

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Joey DeFrancesco: The Champ

Joey DeFrancesco is this era’s Hammond B-3 star, and rightfully so. He’s a master and a kindred spirit of Jimmy Smith, whose trio joined DeFrancesco’s for the final two numbers of this album, recorded at the 1999 San Francisco Jazz Festival. Still, even given the electricity of that collaboration, the piece de resistance of the concert was the DeFrancesco trio’s rendition of the Dizzy Gillespie tune “The Champ.” The group ruminates for 13 minutes and never revisits an idea. Check out what DeFrancesco does at 5:20: Right and left hand peck with stunning speed, seemingly arguing with each other and throwing off sparks like mad. The trio sets off such fireworks with this opener that you fear they can’t go anywhere but down when it’s over. Happily such a letdown fails to materialize.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: The Whip

Perhaps the most underrated organist of his generation, Dr. Lonnie Smith has come into his own really only in the past several years, with a batch of terrific old-school soul-jazz albums. This one, OK, technically isn’t a trio outing, but the two guitarists – one playing rhythm, one playing the solos – tend not to overlap, so it sounds like a trio. “The Whip,” written by Smith, is a simple enough blues, but the group’s touches – including the stop-start nature of its intro – add some unexpected excitement. Smith hands the first solo over to guitarist Peter Bernstein, who has a nice, clean voice and gets a strong, deep tone from the thicker strings. Smith’s swirling solo is right out of Blue Note circa 1965, but he’s got his own things to say, playing wonderfully behind and against the beat. Hot stuff.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tony Monaco: The Cat

As a teenager, Tony Monaco suffered a polio-like disease that left him with nerve damage, yet he has become one of the more interesting organists on today’s scene. A disciple of Jimmy Smith, Monaco is sometimes given to such Hammond clichés as unreasonably long sustains, but he can chew up a tune and spit it back out, which his does with Lalo Schifrin’s classic composition “The Cat,” which became a staple of Smith. Not all jazz need be great art, and this certainly isn’t. What it is, however, is great fun – and an organ trio doesn’t get more blatantly enjoyable than what Monaco served up at the 501 Jazz Bar in Columbus, Ohio, in the spring of 2002.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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