Greg Skaff: Blues For Mr. T (2003)
Greg Skaff’s second disc as a leader charts an impressive course between the familiar, agreeable parameters of soul-jazz and a more open ended, blowing-based approach. The guitarist, Hammond B-3 organist Mike LeDonne, and drummer Joe Farnsworth (all of whom frequently play in various bands at Smoke, a club in New York City that serves as a haven for straight-ahead bands and progressive funk ensembles) make up a bracing, rhythmically charged trio. Throughout a program of six appealing originals, plus tunes by Ellington/Strayhorn, Hubbard, and Tyner, LeDonne’s nimble touch on the bass pedals never turns rigid, Skaff’s dancing chords often wrap themselves around the organist’s solo lines, and Farnsworth’s backbeat variations on the funkier tracks sound both grounded and flexible.
The disc opens with Skaff’s “Baku,” a medium up-tempo composition that snappily moves through a funky, Latin influenced vamp, a quasi-stop-time segment, and a straightforward swinging interlude. The trio’s efficient execution makes the jamming together of these seemingly disparate elements seem perfectly natural. The guitarist’s solo, a long one, constantly surges forward and brims with long, clipped bebop lines and short, recurring phrases, all the while feeding off of LeDonne and Farnsworth. The drummer is on top of everything, prodding Skaff by means of assertive work on the snare and bass drums, even as his cogent ride cymbal holds the music together.
The amiable “Rambler” features a nice hookup between Skaff’s playing of the melody and LeDonne’s soulful, repetitive chording. The vibrant click of Farnsworth’s rim knocks and his strokes to the top tom-tom enables the trio to get into a nice, unhurried groove. The setting is to Skaff’s liking as he takes his most memorable turn of the recording, lingering on themes for a short time before moving on, and never straying very far from a blues-drenched, accessible core. Not to be outdone, LeDonne positively oozes with self-assurance, taking the instrument for a roller-coaster ride through the changes, and then making it scream with ecstasy.
Written in tribute to the late Stanley Turrentine (Skaff played in the tenor saxophonist’s band for five years), the title track is a medium- tempo shuffle. The performance has a last set of the night, playing for the sheer pleasure of it, yet aware that the faithful in the audience are hanging on every note, kind of vibe. Skaff uncorks a solo that demands to be experienced rather than analyzed. The guitarist wrings every possible variation out of the tune’s tight cycle of chords, leaving the listener spent but nonetheless feeling very much alive.
Track Listing: 1. Baku; 2. Rambler; 3. Super 80; 4. Blues For Mr. T; 5. Delphia; 6. Inception; 7. Poundcake; 8. Isfahan; 9. Highway 54.
Personnel: Greg Skaff--guitar; Mike LeDonne--organ; Joe Farnsworth--drums.