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Charles Earland: Cookin' With The Mighty Burner

Douglas Payne By

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Charles Earland - organ jazz's Mighty Burner — hit hard in 1969 applying his own B-3 groove to soulful pop hits like "More Today Than Yesterday." After a fairly adventuresome set of records for the Prestige label in the early 1970s, Earland drifted to disco for Mercury in the mid-1970s and fusion for Columbia later in the decade. By the 1980s, the organist returned to his roots for the Muse label, cutting many low-key records in the lounge organ mode.

In recent years, though, the Mighty Burner has become more prolific than ever, manning sessions of his own for Cannonball and the High Note/Savant labels while doing plenty of session work too. More significantly, he's now making some of the best music of his career.

His latest follows on the heels of his rock-solid Savant release, Slammin' & Jammin'. The aptly titled Cookin' is a straight ahead "we get requests" session , beautifully recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio with a perfectly compatible quintet. The program is given over to five jazz standards, one pop classic and two cookers credited to the organist. Most of the program has been part of Earland's book for years.

Familiar pieces here include "Milestones" (especially well-honed here) and "Killer Joe" (inaccurately co-credited here to Quincy Jones) from 1970's Living Black!, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" from 1972's Intensity and a fired up version of "Three Blind Mice" (credited to the leader) from 1978's Pleasant Afternoon. Earland weighs in well on "Seven Steps to Heaven," gets down and dirty on his own "Seven of Nine" and adds the right-on soul of Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie" (a groove he proved on 1995's "Blowing The Blues Away" that he is particularly well suited for).

But with trumpet and tenor in the front line, Earland seems relegated to the side. Both trumpeter James Rotondi and star tenor player Eric Alexander (an Earland discovery) deliver crisp, sparkling leads. And Melvin Sparks, who's played on and off with Earland since the organist's 1969 debut Black Talk!, swings hard and well in a less-funkified, less showy manner than he used to display, recalling the reliable support Grant Green or Kenny Burrell once offered on organ sessions.

Earland eschews any notion he's laying out, though, when he solos — a treat that makes this disc well worth hearing. Sure he's done it all before. He maintains his signature air-of-the-gods diction on the B-3, alternating rapid-fire licks and catchy ostinatos with dramatic, well placed whole tones. All the while, his foot pedals are careening with the shocking grace of a stringed bassist. But it's the signature he brings to his groove. Indeed, the Mighty Burner cooks. Earland's in a good groove here and organ jazz lovers are well advised to visit the kitchen.

Tracks:Milestones; Sister Sadie; Killer Joe; Seven Steps To Heaven; Will You Love Me Tomorrow; Five Blind Mice; Seven of Nine; Stella By Starlight.

Players:Charles Earland: Hammond B-3 organ; Eric Alexander: tenor sax; James Rotondi: trumpet; Melvin Sparks: guitar; Bobby Durham: drums; Gary Fritz: percussion.

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