Hands On is the fourth Gene Ludwig release on the Blues Leaf imprint since the former Sonny Stitt and Pat Martino confederate was rediscovered by producer Jack Kreisberg in the mid-1990s. Amidst an ever-growing number of recordings featuring capable Hammond B-3 organists, Ludwig’s discs always stand out. This time he leads an able band of musicians from his home base of Pittsburgh, PA. A wide embrace of material and moods enables Ludwig and company to avoid the clichés and repetition often associated with the soul jazz genre. The eleven tracks coalesce like the chapters of a well-plotted novel.
Befitting Ludwig’s decades of playing in clubs populated by revelers and serious listeners, the music is pleasurable and rewards close attention. The opening track is “Louie and Jazz,” his brash, R&B-influenced shuffle. Each soloist knows better than to bring things to a boil too quickly. Ken Karsh’s guitar lazily drifts above the persistent throb of Ludwig’s bass pedals and Tom Wendt’s drums before he snaps to attention with a combination of bebop and blues-oriented locutions. Tenor saxophonist Eric DeFade pursues a similar course and holds his ground, even as Karsh and Ludwig gleefully bounce chords off of one another. The leader takes it nice and easy for a chorus, letting every phrase sink in before slowly beginning to build, and eventually climaxes by means of a series of lines that gallop against the pulse.
It’s easy to get caught up in the sheer drive of Ludwig’s two choruses during the band’s blazing take on Sam Jones’ “Unit 7.” He doesn’t dazzle with finger-busting displays of technique; rather it’s the restless way the organist presents his ideas that gets under your skin. Although he offers guideposts like sustaining a chord for a few beats or repeating a phrase a number of times, mostly Ludwig dwells on a theme just long enough to make a fleeting impression, then immediately makes a transition to another one; all the while providing sudden spikes of energy.
Ludwig has always been an active, searching improviser on ballad material and his performance on “Pete Kelly’s Blues” is no exception. Working around the measured sound of Wendt’s ride cymbal, the thirty-six bar turn is filled with concise double-time runs and a smattering of smooth melodic lines and short pauses—as if the organist is at once running freely and holding himself in check.
Track Listing: 1. Louie and Jazz; 2. Unit 7; 3. Groove Yard; 4. Willow Weep For Me; 5. Groove Merchant; 6. Groovy Samba; 7. Baby Don't You Go Away Mad; 8. Pete Kelly's Blues; 9. Layin' Back; 10. Have You Met Miss Jones; 11. Spiritual.
Personnel: Gene Ludwig--Hammond B-3 organ; Ken Karsh--guitar; Tom Wendt--drums; Eric DeFade--tenor saxophone.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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