The Fender Rhodes holds a cult status among keyboard instruments. The manufacturer may be defunct today, but enthusiasts continue to write and perform creative music that showcases the electric piano’s funky sound. Chicago pianist George McRae harnesses the Rhodes on his latest album, Being Here, to produce a set of sharp grooves.
To feature the instrument’s sound, McRae chooses a trio format with just bass and drums backing. Moreover, he’s composed the all-originals program in a manner that allows the dynamic range of the piano to shine. “A Little Taste” and “The Funky Pigeon Stomp” reflect a groovy sensibility. The medium tempo “A Simple Wish” conveys the sweet side of things. And “Woman” aptly closes the set. Here McRae plays unaccompanied. Stripped bare of effects, the keyboard’s pristine electric hum beautifully complements the song’s haunting melody.
Besides the Rhodes, rhythmmanifested through Alan Berliant’s fretless electric bassdefines the session’s focus. On virtually every song Berliant busts out a thundering intro before McRae establishes the theme. With its ‘70s flick soundtrack riff, “Drive” epitomizes the album’s emphasis on heavy rhythm. In this one instance, melodic development takes a back seat to honking bass lines.
McRae definitely places a premium on melody, rhythm and composition, but cogent improvisation also occurs. The leader’s solo on “Running Man”replete with short phrases, right-hand runs and , at times, a free soundrewards concentrated attention. Berliant finds an opportunity to stretch out on “A Simple Wish” and “The Funky Pigeon Stomp” offering, respectively, charming and funky solos. Being Here succinctly covers a lot of bases while highlighting an unorthodox jazz instrument. Dig that funky Rhodes!
Track Listing: A Little Taste; Running Man; Shades of You; A Simple Wish; Snakes, Deviants & Politicians; Drive; Barcelona; The Funky Pigeon Stomp; Woman
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.