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Charles Earland: The Almighty Burner

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The organ-jazz revival of the 1990s brought a flood of reissues from Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and John Patton along with the new stars of the organ Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Goldings, and John Medeski. Charles Earland’s career got a boost too, reviving his 1960’s soul sound. Earland a bop-ishly straight-ahead B-3 man, died last year at the age of 58. His beginnings, with Pat Matino and Lou Donaldson, established a theme of the saxophone/organ and guitar/organ sound that could be as sweet as church or as diabolic as bebop. He recorded with the young Grover Washington Jr. and followed in the jazz organ tradition until it, and he fell out of favor.

His return to popular success is aptly documented on this collection of four recording dates from 1976 through 1991, all created under the direction of Rudy Van Gelder. He pursues the same formulas that worked in the late-sixties. Big fat (or phat for younger readers) tenor saxophone spread the groove while nimble guitarists work the topside. Heard here are saxophonists George Coleman, Houston Person, and the very first recording by Eric Alexander, who apprenticed under Earland. Guitarists making an appearance are Melvin Sparks, Robert Block, Oliver Nevels, and the great Jimmy Ponder. Fans of the late trumpeter Johnny Coles can mine two tracks of the little god on flugelhorn.

These dates from the Muse label were resurrected and compiled by 32Jazz’s Todd Barken. His work for 32Jazz, like this Earland project, is to make whole the entire jazz story by featuring out-of-print performances by the famous musicians and what I call the if-you-like-the-famous-you-should-hear-this-guy musicians. Earland is of the latter category. This year he was featured on Roy Nathanson’s brilliant Fire At Keaton’s Bar & Grill and given credit constantly by Eric Alexander.

What I find appealing about Earland (and all great organists) is the fine line he skates between jazz and cheese, swing and corn. Face it, the organ, in the hands of the wrong musician, merely signals that it’s time for the couples skate at the roller dome. Earland’s touch of the hulking B-3 is pure poetry. Sure organ jazz is filled with cliches, but so is life. It’s almost hip to be square again.

Track List:Penn Relays; Danny Boy’s Soul; Milestones; Tackhead; Grant’s Groove; A Good Date; More Today Than Yesterday; No Brain, No Pain; Europa (Earth’s Cry – Heaven’s Smile); Unforgettable; The Kicker.

Personnel: Charles Earland

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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