Hands On is the fourth Gene Ludwig release on the Blues Leaf imprint since the former Sonny Stitt and Pat Martino confederate was rediscovered by producer Jack Kreisberg in the mid-1990s. Amidst an ever-growing number of recordings featuring capable Hammond B-3 organists, Ludwig’s discs always stand out. This time he leads an able band of musicians from his home base of Pittsburgh, PA. A wide embrace of material and moods enables Ludwig and company to avoid the clichés and repetition often associated with the soul jazz genre. The eleven tracks coalesce like the chapters of a well-plotted novel.
Befitting Ludwig’s decades of playing in clubs populated by revelers and serious listeners, the music is pleasurable and rewards close attention. The opening track is “Louie and Jazz,” his brash, R&B-influenced shuffle. Each soloist knows better than to bring things to a boil too quickly. Ken Karsh’s guitar lazily drifts above the persistent throb of Ludwig’s bass pedals and Tom Wendt’s drums before he snaps to attention with a combination of bebop and blues-oriented locutions. Tenor saxophonist Eric DeFade pursues a similar course and holds his ground, even as Karsh and Ludwig gleefully bounce chords off of one another. The leader takes it nice and easy for a chorus, letting every phrase sink in before slowly beginning to build, and eventually climaxes by means of a series of lines that gallop against the pulse.
It’s easy to get caught up in the sheer drive of Ludwig’s two choruses during the band’s blazing take on Sam Jones’ “Unit 7.” He doesn’t dazzle with finger-busting displays of technique; rather it’s the restless way the organist presents his ideas that gets under your skin. Although he offers guideposts like sustaining a chord for a few beats or repeating a phrase a number of times, mostly Ludwig dwells on a theme just long enough to make a fleeting impression, then immediately makes a transition to another one; all the while providing sudden spikes of energy.
Ludwig has always been an active, searching improviser on ballad material and his performance on “Pete Kelly’s Blues” is no exception. Working around the measured sound of Wendt’s ride cymbal, the thirty-six bar turn is filled with concise double-time runs and a smattering of smooth melodic lines and short pauses—as if the organist is at once running freely and holding himself in check.
Track Listing: 1. Louie and Jazz; 2. Unit 7; 3. Groove Yard; 4. Willow Weep For Me; 5. Groove Merchant; 6. Groovy Samba; 7. Baby Don't You Go Away Mad; 8. Pete Kelly's Blues; 9. Layin' Back; 10. Have You Met Miss Jones; 11. Spiritual.
Personnel: Gene Ludwig--Hammond B-3 organ; Ken Karsh--guitar; Tom Wendt--drums; Eric DeFade--tenor saxophone.