The impact of Jimmy Smith's organ trio in the mid 1950s was by all accounts massive. Nothing quite like it had been heard before in popular music. Smith unleashed a wailing, high decibel (for the era) monster which was also capable of expressing gentler moods. Audiences and record buyers went ape and Smith's label, Blue Note, got some sustaining cash-flow. Other labels could not get on the bandwagon fast enough and dozens of similar lineups emerged. But like many sensations, the organ trio's novelty was finite and the Hammond B3 itself ultimately proved to be a cumbersome instrument with a restricted palette and a chronic difficulty with nuance.
A niche audience for organ trios remained though and it continues to thrive. British group Wild Card, led by the French guitarist Clement Regert, has built up a solid following since debuting in 2008 with Mixity (Top End Records). The band is a lot of fun and Régert keep things relatively fresh by weaving a variety of styles into the book. On Beast From The East, the group's fifth album, these include hard bop, funk, samba and ska.
The ace in Wild Card's pack, however, are its guest musicians, who allow it to paint on a sonic canvas larger than the one available to the core trio alone. A chicken-shack organ / guitar / drums vibe defines most of the band's music, but the toplines are enriched by the sounds of blown-through wind instruments, which even synthesisers, let alone Hammond B3s, simply cannot emulate. Saxophones, trumpets, trombones and, on Beast From The East, a harmonica, ring the changes.
Standout tracks are "Tales From Hanoi," a samba featuring percussionist Joao Caetano, "Do It Like A Girl," a poignant ballad showcasing Adam Glasser's harmonica, and "Beast From The East" and "Black Tower," both lifted by gutsy solos from Tim Garland on tenor saxophone. All the tunes are Régert originals except the closer, Norman Whitfield's funk classic "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," played fast. It is the least successful track. Funk needs bass and we are not talking lugubrious organ pedals but a carnal, percussive, heavy on the downbeat, string bass, preferably an electric one. Come in Bootsy Collins, we need you.
The Saga Of Harrison Crabfeathers; Beast From The East; Tales From Hanoi; Black Tower; Do It Like A Girl; Doctor K; The Struggle; Asparagus Moment 11; L’Empire Des Anges; Screen Walkers; Papa Was A Rolling Stone.
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