Comprised of craftsmanship and inspiration in equal measure, Hammond B-3 organist Gene Ludwig’s The Groove ORGANization (Blues Leaf) thrives within the broad, well-trod parameters of soul-jazz. Ludwig and his partners guitarist Bob DeVos and drummer Billy James pull off the admirable feat of making music that has an aura of good times, yet is substantial and thought provoking. The overall sound is blues and soul saturated, minus any hint of cliché or grandstanding. Although this is jazz that provides visceral pleasure in the sure-handed presentation of familiar, seemingly basic elements, the trio’s serious play rewards the listener who pays close attention to their every move.
Utilizing a tight, high-pitched snare drum and a ride cymbal, James’ unwavering shuffle beat throughout “One Mint Julep” creates an infectious, jaunty strut that never falters. A laconic, plainspoken player who takes his time in expressing a bottomless well of ideas, DeVos is a thinking person’s guitar hero. Favoring small but significant gestures and orderly development, his solo manages to sound both calculated and ardent. Ludwig follows the guitarist and displays an equally broad palette, unearthing a phrase and working it into various forms before seamlessly moving on to another one, often working up to rousing climaxes.
A deliberate, easy swinging treatment of Joe Henderson’s “Step Lightly” exposes another side of the trio’s artistry. While DeVos plays the melody in a relaxed manner, James’ quarter note ride cymbal rhythm firmly moves the music forward. During three improvised choruses, the guitarist generally keeps things on low boil, playing with purpose but not sounding overly insistent. In addition to a full, liquid tone, it’s his restraint and avoidance of excessive velocity that makes DeVos sound so convincing. Boosted by James’ persistent, irregularly placed accents on the snare, Ludwig is equally impressive, enlarging a deep, soulful groove with flighty digressions that always come back home.
Ludwig and DeVos are brilliant, knowing bebop players, and on an up-tempo “Billie’s Bounce,” each man respects the style’s conventions without sounding restrained or hemmed in by them. Using both sticks and his hands, James’ extended solo (the veteran’s first on record) throws it all out the window in favor of something more idiosyncratic and less rule governed. His playing is an absorbing patchwork of shifting rhythms and tempos, executed with a combination of finesse and strength that swings mightily, hangs together as a whole, and exudes an air of absolute certainty.
Personnel: Gene Ludwig--Hammond B-3 Organ; Bob DeVos--Guitar; Billy James--Drums.