The Hammond B-3 organ, even more than the Fender Rhodes electric piano, simply refuses to surrender to the proponents of digital synthesis, be they manufacturers of keyboards or aging keyboardists looking for less strenuous gigs. The instrument continues to exert a universal appeal, offering a soul-stirring Sunday-morning message at a time and place that suits Saturday-night sinners. All the more reason this RVG edition of Soul Message, a popular recording by one of the instrument's more effective evangelists, is likely to be warmly received among converts and backsliders alike.
In retrospect, the sensation Jimmy Smith created with his up-tempo, head-spinning recording of Dizzy Gillespie's "The Champ" [The Champ (Blue Note, 1956)] was probably disproportionate to the accomplishment of the performance itself. Primarily, the "incredible" one (as he was thereafter billed) made it acceptable to bring the churchy behemoth into sinful dens and, as a bonus for playing challenging bebop, was allowed to retain preaching privileges as well.
Richard "Groove Holmes deftly toes the line between serious jazz and soul/pop worlds on this 1965 recording, which seems targeted at a mainstream audience not in the mood for either teaching or preaching. The familiar songs are given a slight face-lift (Holmes' up-tempo treatment of Erroll Garner's "Misty" became a hit single), while a less familiar tune like Clifford Brown's "Dahoud" settles into such an easy, emphatic groove that even a first-time listener could mistake it for a comfortable old slipper.
It was a sweet strategy for Holmes at the time, though the session barely challenges the talented organist to show his wares. This remaster is likely to appeal above all to those who remember the original recording or to listeners in search of the soundscape that only a Hammond B3 plus Leslie speakers can create. The highlight is the opening blues, "Groove's Groove," an infectious two-beat toe-tapper that heats up into a walking 4/4 swinger, after which the session kind of simmers down.
On the opener Holmes demonstrates the many uses of a plain F7 chord, staying with those four notes for the better part of several choruses. It's a simple deviceholding one note for an entire chorus, then adding the fifth, next the seventh, finally using the Leslie to disrupt the still surface with a wave pattern before returning the unwieldy vessel to the becalming decadence of swamp water.
The trick is to sense (and avoid) the tipping point at which repetition becomes boredom and sustained tension becomes irritation. Holmes plays not only his instrument but the average listener to perfection with ample assistance from the soiled, slightly distorted sound of Gene Edwards' gritty guitar, not to mention the organist's own potent, virile bass lines, which are given a big sonic boost on this latest remaster. Jimmie Smith (the drummer) completes the trio with remarkably restrained, tasteful and supportive accompaniment.
In short, Soul Message doesn't offer the kind of preaching that saves souls, but for listeners unmoved by smooth jazz, it provides a soul-soothing alternative.
Personnel: Richard "Groove" Holmes: organ; Gene Edwards: guitar; Jimmie Smith: drums.