Robert Kennedy has an interesting story: by day he works for Google; by night he is an organist in the San Francisco jazz scene. Though it is not unusual for musicians to have two careers these days, as let's face it, musicians are still being paid rates from the '70s for playing music. Kennedy hails originally from the southeastern region, so by influence the rich history of jazz is in his bones. It was his time at Stanford University that first cut his teeth in 1988, playing piano in the Stanford University Jazz Band and studying jazz piano with the great jazz pianist, band director, and educator Bill Bell. This experience would set Kennedy on his path of discovery and the richly hued Hammond organ.
His debut album Big Shoes (Robert Kennedy Trio, 2015) introduced the jazz aficionado to this burgeoning talent, and now with Closer to Home Kennedy takes a bounding step forward, featuring ten tunes by different composers, including "Come On, Come In" from his own pen.
"Come On, Come In" is a sophisticated melodic tune, featuring Terrence Brewer on guitar who takes a colorful legato solo, and nicely sets up the passage for saxophonist Ben Torres who weighs in on this tune, with his warmly toned horn, that exudes a complex carbonation of flurried notes, punctuated by drummer Cody Rhodes. Kennedy is cool and relaxed and his nimble fingers glide across the keys for an inspired and erudite listen. The melody is memorable and lingers, which is certainly what one looks for in an original tune. Another tune that stood out with brilliance on the album was written by saxophonist Anton Schwartz. The tune is a greasy funky-organ song aptly titled "Alligator Strut," that lives up to its 400 pounds of organ goldmine. Taking the final slot on the album it has all the elements one looks for as a closing tune. The bluesy funkified swing is infectious and percolates with well-oiled solo sections. The tune is funky and accessible, all the elements that make organ ensembles memorable. Torres once again is highlighted on this track, and he serves it up with a modernized solo that builds on motifs and frankly, cooks.
Kennedy has a style that oozes with polished confidence and a gutbucket, down-home vibe to his playing style, that surely is based in his American South roots. The authenticity of his playing is slow, low and righteous. Joined by a band of San Francisco brothers, Closer to Home is a pleasing date that flat out is a great listen from top to bottom with a firmly rooted 60s sound.
Wild Bill; Dat Dere; Robert’s Reflection; Come On, Come In; Do You Know a Good Thing (When You See One)?; Sista Rissy;
Rakin’ and Scrapin’; Carrot Cake; Sandu; Alligator Strut.