“We’re gonna cook a little bit for you – is that O.K.?” With that Charles Earland celebrates his birthday on stage – and it IS a celebration! Horns blaze, the rhythm pounds, and you can’t forget that vital organ. It’s aptly titled – this music lives.
“The Burning Spirit” sets off at full charge, horns shouting the angular theme with the power of a big band. Eric Alexander runs deep, with tangy tone and lines that run forever. Charles likes what he hears; he comps strong behind – strong enough to drown at times. No such problem with Jim Rotundi: his tone is loud and broad, mellow like a flugelhorn and sharp as a tack. Bob Devos snakes everywhere: he darts long like Pat Martino, with a cleaner tone. And it’s time for The Mighty Burner. With deep smoke and happy screams, he cuts a path with weaving fingers. Repetition is used to great effect: the hand pumps, the heat rises. The crowd screams as the chords climb higher; Charles says “Praise the Lord!” and the crowd affirms. The spirit is willing, and so is the listener.
The crowd is silenced, and Charles goes churchy. The organ is solemn, full of vibrato – and then a shout. Alexander starts “If Only For One Night” with that slow groove – a midnight dance if there ever was one. Charles starts low and tender, shouts, then the organ screams a while. This gets Alexander going, and he sounds a bit like Turrentine as he does a loud swagger. Earland takes a three-note theme, varies it deliciously, and goes loud for a rousing finish. “You know, your hands are going on that CD,” he says.
The audience starts off “The Burner’s Magic,” with a great rhythm part from Devos. Alexander screams it hot; like before, it’s hard to hear him at times. Rotundi is an architect: his solo builds ideas into a unified whole, and the audience loves it. Devos gets in some late-night blues. Charles starts with restraint: a four-note pattern becomes a roll, and quickly gains muscle. Greg Rockingham has a moment: his simple drum solo is the essence of tough. He and Alexander take the honors here, and Charles doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight. There’s enough of the Burner’s magic to go around.
The highlights come at the end, with two cuts taken from Charles’ first album. “Black Talk” opens with a shout of “C’mon guitar!” Devos responds with the ringing blues, similar to Melvin Sparks on the 1970 version. Alexander is once more on target: he trills high, and screeches some rusty honks. Charles reprises his original solo, with some fiery variations. The crowd loves it – and lets us know. The end, with tough rhythm, lots of hands, and a slow burn from Charles, is a keeper.
It is topped by “More today from Yesterday”, which is cheered as it opens – the fans remember. It’s a little shorter than the original, and Earland has the only solo: you know what happens. The crowd is there from the beginning; they sound like they could be dancing. Earland rolls warm, as the horns punch the riff. It sounds like the original solo, but faster, and a heart as big as the room. Now THIS is a shout! He takes a long, lush descent – down the Spiral Starecase? And the horns come back. The applause goes on forever – as well it should. Happy Birthday, Charles Earland. And many more!
Songs:The Burning Spirit; If Only For One Night; The Burner’s Magic; Black Talk; Explosion; More Today than Yesterday.
Musicians:Charles Earland (organ); Eric Alexander (tenor sax); Jim Rotundi (trumpet); Bob Devos (guitar); Greg Rockingham (drums).
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