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Dave Braham: Blue Gardenia

AAJ Staff By

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You hear it from the opening chord, when the sax and guitar come in – this is the real thing. It’s that rich greasy organ sound made big in the ‘Sixties, but good things never go out of style. David Braham, studio fixture (Lou Donaldson, Johnny Lytle), longtime sideman of Houston Person, steps forward with something to say. Backed by familiar faces (most everyone here, including Braham, played on Nat Simpkins’ Spare Ribs ), this overlooked organist grooves deep, and spins us some of that late-night sound.

Braham starts off with a juicy vamp; stacatto bleeps from Eric Johnson tell us we’re hearing “Love for Sale”. Simpkins starts the theme, with a deadly growl on the opening phrase. Drums pound hard; the conga gives it depth. Braham is mellow on the bridges and trebly on his solo – a touch of Jimmy McGriff, but he doesn’t really “sound” like anybody. Simpkins is a light-toned shouter of the old school; his solo goes up in the soprano range. Each does his bit – the band is the star here.

Groove Holmes’ “Living Soul” gets a ton of two-finger trills from Braham; his pedal work is the best. Simpkins really goes to town: staying in mid-range, he surges and squawks and takes no prisoners. Johnson’s turn has a little single-string blues and a lot of the barroom feeling. Cecil Brooks III shows us something rare – a tuneful drum solo. As Braham pedals behind, Brooks’ toms rebound from speaker to speaker, the snares are sharp, and the cymbals something special. Get the barbecue sauce; this one smokes!

The tones get round and warm for a classy “Blue Gardenia”. Johnson’s comping is simple but effective; his solo muses with delightful little phrases. Braham gets lush like Holmes on his solo, then back to the gentle sound. This is a tender kiss, and one to remember.

“Minor Inconvenience” is an attractive blues; Braham states the theme, then sits back as his mates take the spotlight. Simpkins is soft but tough, with that gentle force I love in a tenor. Johnson is especially good: he bobs and he weaves, full of thought and full of fire. Braham has a tender bit, suddenly explodes in a great wave of sound, and in a blink he is sedate. Minor Inconvenience? Major pleasure!

Half the tracks drop conga and change guitars. Bob Devos is similar to Johnson, with his sound a little more “metallic”. Simpkins is absent on many of these, and his presence is missed. Devos’ warm ring helps the samba “If You Never Come to Me”; Braham’s solo is a gem. Simpkins returns on “Don’t Get Around Much”; his swagger is delightful and his turn is too short. Where he was hot, Devos is cool: gentle rolling lines with deep notes and full tones. Braham rolls like Jack McDuff; Devos gets bluesy behind him. “If I Should Lose You” is another trio, a little faster than the others. This is Devos’ spot; his long lines and crystal tone make it a joy. Braham is soft, and I think he quotes “The Happy Organ”! “Time After Time” is a slow trio that creeps up on you: when Braham goes double-time in mid-stream, his rhythmic part is infectious. And for this, there IS a cure: I prescribe this album, taken in regular doses.


Title: Blue Gardenia | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Blue Jay Records


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