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Charles Earland: Live (2002)

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There's nothing subtle about Charles Earland's brand of soul-jazz. "The Burner" has always treated his organ as a rhythm instrument, attacking chords and arpeggios with unrestrained gusto. Having witnessed an Earland performance around the time this CD was recorded, I can certify that the man is an indefatigable performer with a very tight band.

This live CD was recorded on May 24, 1997, on Earland's 56th birthday. The scene was Chicago's DuSable Museum of African-American History, and the mood was celebratory. Earland, his band, and the crowd all had a great time that night, and the party atmosphere is well captured on this disk.

Earland enjoyed a spate of crossover popularity in 1969 with his classic album Black Talk. Live reprises two tunes from that debut release: the groove-heavy title track and a rousing version of the bouncy Spiral Staircase hit "More Today Than Yesterday." Of the remaining four cuts, one is a ballad ("If Only For One Night") and one a funky excursion ("The Burner's Magic"). My favorites are "The Burning Spirit" and "Explosion," a couple of bop romps wherein the horn section of Eric Anderson (tenor sax) and Jim Rotundi (trumpet) gets to strut its considerable stuff. Earland's soulful take on "More Today Than Yesterday" closes the CD in rousing fashion and leaves the crowd going nuts.

Earland's studio releases have borrowed heavily from pop and R&B, and some have struck me as overly slick. But this live CD allows his talented band to stretch out, resulting in a fine amalgam of jazz, rhythm and soul. The other talented musicians in Earland's group are Bob Devos on guitar and Greg Rockingham on drums.

Charles Earland lost his first wife to cancer and suffered a major heart attack in the '80s. As an ordained Baptist deacon, he credits his faith for helping him survive. Earland's exuberance is infectious on this CD, and his quintet serves up some very uplifting music.

This is another fine release from Cannonball Records, a new Minneapolis label that specializes in soul-jazz.

Rating ***1/2 (out of ****)

Record Label: Cannonball Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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