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Skip Heller: It's Like That: The Organ Combo Anthology 1998-2004 (2005)

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Skip Heller: It's Like That: The Organ Combo Anthology 1998-2004 How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

In its heyday during the 1960s, organ jazz was scorned by the critics and embraced by the people. It was a populist form of jazz that could be heard in many working class bars in seemingly every black neighborhood in America. The organ trio would hold forth—just organ, guitar, and drums—playing swinging, blues-drenched music. And no city was more synonymous with organ jazz than Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the 1980s, when guitarist Skip Heller came up, he learned his craft playing in Philadelphia organ groups, and he has come to be a guardian of the Philadelphia organ combo tradition. When he tours, it's with a trio, although sometimes he adds a saxophonist. It's Like That collects some of Heller's organ combo music, including tracks from earlier albums, at least one demo, and some live performances, many of them previously unreleased. The result is a rollicking, swinging, funky good time.

Besides being a terrific guitarist, Skip Heller is something of a musical encyclopedia. He not only knows his jazz, organ jazz in particular, but he also possesses vast knowledge of classical music, rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, bluegrass, Latin... you name it. Hence, the wide range of styles here runs from Sun Ra's "Interplanetary Music" to a Mahler funeral march to the Norah Jones hit "Don't Know Why." And Heller isn't the least bit cynical about any of it. The Mahler piece, for example, comes from Heller's fine album Homegoing, and it receives a heartfelt performance at a firmly swinging medium tempo. "Interplanetary Music" is a live club performance with Heller swinging like mad at a pumping speed.

And of course, Heller plays the blues. It isn't organ jazz without the blues, as on the late Charles Earland's "The Mighty Burner," which features another stinging Heller guitar solo. The Philadelphia organ jazz tradition embraces the likes of Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Don Patterson, and the young wizard Joey DeFrancesco. It's Like That offers resounding proof that with Skip Heller, that tradition is in excellent hands.


Track Listing: Big J; Jelly; Dave Alvin; Andy Tesso; Meydele; Nika's Dowry; Giant Steps; Funeral March From Mahler #5; Interplanetary Music; Rosetta; Emika; Don't Know Why; Never Can Say Goodbye; Chinatown; The Yodel; The Mighty Burner.

Personnel: Skip Heller: guitar; others unidentified.

Record Label: Jewbilee

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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