Let's Party: Anthony Wilson Trio, Joel Frahm & Bruce Katz, James Carter et al.


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Just because summer is long gone doesn't mean the other three seasons have to be a marathon of dreariness. The calendar's got plenty of reasons to party—Christmas, New Year's Eve, or (for college students) the odd Tuesday that needs freshening up. It's only logical that parties need party music, so here are three "musical guests," all of them featuring keyboard icon Jimmy Smith's favorite party favor, the Hammond B-3 organ.

Anthony Wilson Trio
Jack of Hearts
Groove Note

Not every party disc has to be a lesson in how to violate noise ordinances and outrage people. There are moments at every party when Music to Chill Out is an absolute necessity. Guitarist Anthony Wilson's latest outing has an admirable dexterity that makes it perfect for those moments—from disbursing the first round of Mojitos, to that point in the evening when people who just met a few hours before are slow-dancing in the middle of the living room.

The opener, "Mezcal," delivers a deliciously chunky groove that's designed to start heads bobbing and shoulders shimmying. Wilson and keyboardist Larry Goldings keep the focus steady and straight, though Wilson injects dissonance into his chording to make the vibe a little dirtier. The piece fades out before it should, but it's only one of several bump-and-grinding crowd pleasers. Coleman Hawkins' "Hawk Eyes" gets downright nasty as Goldings channels his inner "Captain" Jack McDuff behind Wilson's electrifying solo, and Van Dyke Parks' "Orange Crate Art" shows how to bring Sexy to any gathering. Even Jerry Goldsmith's theme from Chinatown works here, as Wilson's stripped down blues arrangement brings out the romance inside Roman Polanski's neo-noir masterpiece.

An interesting sidelight is the subtle differences between the drummers on Jack of Hearts. Jeff Hamilton brings a jazz heart to his part of the proceedings, giving the Duke Ellington tunes "Carnegie Blues" and "Zweet Zursday" the traditional approach they need. Noted rock session drummer Jim Keltner's lead-pencil-simple foundation speaks directly to the Mojo, giving the blues on the date additional throw weight. In all, Jack of Hearts helps party hosts deliver one simple message: "You've found the right place! Kick back and stay a while!"

Visit Anthony Wilson on the web.

Joel Frahm & Bruce Katz
Project A
Anzic Records

There's no better singer to add to a party mix than Aretha Franklin, particularly if the source material is the transcendent Aretha Live at Fillmore West (Atlantic, 1971). If that's not available, then tenor man Joel Frahm and keyboardist Bruce Katz's scintillating tribute to "Soul Sister #1" is more than a worthy substitute.

Frahm and Katz focus primarily on Franklin's time with Atlantic Records, where she arguably did the signature work of her 40-years-plus career. The co-leaders understand that—as with Ray Charles—Franklin's best music touched on both the spiritual sound of the church and the down-and-dirty vibe of the gin joint. Frahm's establishing riff on "The House that Jack Built" gets about two seconds in the clear before the band blasts off, successfully capturing the infectious energy producer Tom Dowd brought to every Franklin session he worked; Katz' piano intro to "Don't Play That Song" communicates serious loss and sorrow before giving way to the gospel vibe of the original recording; and the co-leaders totally channel the church with a two-handed meditation that prefaces a brilliant expansion on "Spirit in the Dark."

The third (but not silent) partner on Project A is guitarist Chris Vitarello, whose axe is sharp enough to split girders in two, as well as raise hairs on the back of the neck. He plays a grief-stricken lament over an Old School R&B horn section on "It Ain't Fair," and his monstrous fuzz-toned intro to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" totally changes the meaning of the song's lyric. As much as they love Franklin and her work, Frahm and Katz have no problem putting their own major-league topspin on it. As a result, Project A is both brave and fun, qualities that always make a party more interesting.

Visit Joel Frahm & Bruce Katz on the web.

James Carter, et al.
Heaven on Earth
Half Note

Bassist Christian McBride's pre-set greeting to the crowd ("How y'all BE?!") is an indicator that this night at the Blue Note will be anything but sedate. Then again, how could it be sedate with a lineup of McBride, sax master James Carter, keyboardist John Medeski, guitarist Adam Rogers, and drummer Joey Baron? Like Terrell Owens playing for the Dallas Cowboys, the group concept for Heaven on Earth does seem outside the box, and even Bill Milkowski's liner notes call it a "roll of the dice." However, this gamble works out a lot better than Owens' truncated stay with America's Team.

The rowdiness possibilities are confirmed by a titanic opening take on Django Reinhardt's "Diminishing" that is less Le Hot Club as it is the Head Hunters. Carter and Rogers fly tight formation on the dive-bombing melody while McBride and Baron create a devastating foundation. Medeski fills furiously on B-3, unencumbered by the synths and samples of Medeski Martin & Wood. This is soul jazz for the 21st century, tailor-made to burn down the world's most famous jazz club, and the carnage has only just begun. The band straps a rocket onto a (mostly) trad reading of Lucky Thompson's "Slam's Mishap," and Carter's baritone-sax-from-hell intro to Leo Parker's "Blue Leo" creates more sonic destruction than Rogers' amp could ever wreak.

Heaven on Earth isn't all pedal-to-the-metal, though. While this group obviously likes to play loud, they've also got too much love for texture to just honk all night long: Carter prefaces a cool workup of Victor Young's "Street of Dreams" with a gorgeous in-the-clear tenor rendition of "On Broadway;" both "Street of Dreams" and the bossa-goes-baritone take on "Infiniment" feature McBride on double bass, where he will always do his most expressive work. Heaven on Earth may only be a one-time occurrence, but—like all the best parties—it stays in the forefront of memory, as a reminder that sometimes it's essential to throw caution in the dumpster and let it all hang out.

Visit James Carter on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

Jack of Hearts

Tracks: Mezcal; Jack of Hearts; Hawk Eyes; Carnegie Blues; Theme from Chinatown; Vida Perdida Acabou; Orange Crate Art; Harajuku; Zweet Zursday; Homecoming.

Personnel: Anthony Wilson: guitar; Larry Goldings: Hammond B-3, Celeste; Jeff Hamilton: drums (2-4, 9); Jim Keltner: drums (1, 5-8, 10).

Project A

Tracks: The House that Jack Built; Love the One You're With; Don't Play That Song; Spirit in the Dark; It Ain't Fair; Maybe I'm a Fool; What a Friend We Have in Jesus; Rock Steady; Packing Up, Getting Ready to Go.

Personnel: Joel Frahm: tenor sax; Bruce Katz: piano, Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer; Chris Vitarello: guitar; Marty Ballou: acoustic bass (2, 4-6, 8, 9); Jerry Jemmott: electric bass (1, 3, 4, 7, 8); Lorne Entress: drums (1, 3-5, 7-9); Ralph Rosen: drums (2, 4, 6-9); Jay Collins: baritone sax (5, 7, 9); Kenny Rampton: trumpet (5, 7, 9).

Heaven on Earth

Tracks: Diminishing; Slam's Mishap; Street of Dreams; Infiniment; Blue Leo; Heaven on Earth.

Personnel: James Carter: soprano, tenor, and baritone saxophones; John Medeski: Hammond B-3; Christian McBride: acoustic and electric basses; Adam Rogers: guitars; Joey Baron: drums.

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