Organism: The Jazz Organ Renaissance

C. Michael Bailey By

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There has been in the last number of years a Renaissance of sorts for the jazz organ. Sam Yahel, Peter Goldstein, and Tony Monaco, all have made their mark in the jazz organ arena. The road pioneered by Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and Dr. Lonnie Smith has been given way to Medeski, Martin, and Wood and Soullive. Submitted for your approval are several recent organ jazz offerings, some greasy, some wholesome.

Mike Kennedy
Quartet No. 1
Self Produced

Guitarist Mike Kennedy plays with a soulfulness that is quite characteristic of his Philadelphia home's jazz tradition. The music contained on Quartet No. 1, the electronic document of his working guitar-saxophone-organ-traps quartet is a direct extension of Jimmy Smith and Bobby Timmons without ever being derivative. This is swinging, walking bass organ jazz that never gets close to a twelve-bar blues format.

Another encouraging fact about this recording is that it presents all original compositions. These compositions all have an aurally lived in feel that that makes them very comfortable to listen to, e.g. psychically undemanding. For a taste of the true recording, cue up track 7 "For Now" which is a ten minute romp that allows Kennedy, reedist Chris Farr and organist Lucas Brown to conservatively stretch out.

Kennedy's guitar tone and performance and uncomplicated by gimmicks and technique for technique's sake. He has the chops to show off, but never falls overboard into self-worship. Kennedy's empathy with his bandmates is almost uncanny if it were not so structured. This in no way is a bad thing, for it provides the listener with well organized and thoughtful music.

For more information, please see Mike Kennedy.

Track Listing: Who Told You That; Teahouse; No Small Favor; Barrage; Something For You; Any Other Day; For Now; Six To One; Some Blues; Say It.

Personnel: Mike Kennedy—Guitar; Chris Farr—Tenor And Soprano Saxophones; Lucas Brown—Hammond Organ; Dan Monaghan—Drums.

Waiting for the Boogaloo Sisters
PKO Records

Organissimo injects their unique brand of organ trio music with a shot of James Brown. Drummer Randy Marsh, more often that not, lays down a greasy funk, supported by organist Alfredson's pedals, that is more like a Friday Night fish fry than chicken and ribs by the river. Guitarist Joe Gloss applies a sheen of respectability to this grease before he turns up the calories and really sends the funk into overdrive. And this is al before the listener gets beyond the opener, "Meet Me @ 11."

"Jimmy Smith Goes to Washington" is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Mr. Smith, with Alfredson emulating Smith's explosive soloing. Here the whole ensemble is in the same groove, approaching nirvana at light speed. More funk occurs on "Clap Yo' Hands." "Life Wish" is a Bossa ballad, and Pre-Dawn rain and introspective one. The disc wraps up with ten minutes of major funk on "Decoder," a piece that simmers and percolates until the soloing starts and then the piece shifts into an overdrive that has been there all along.

For more information, please see Organissimo.

Track Listing: Meet Me @ 11; Jimmy Smith Goes To Washington; Clap Yo' Hands; Life Wish; Blake's Shake; You Don't Want To Do That; Young's Dream; Pre-Dawn Rain; Decoder.

Personnel: Jim Alfredson—Hammond B3 Organ; Joe Gloss—Guitar; Randy Marsh—Drums.

Steve Yeager
New Groove Blues
Collective Vibe Records

Yeager, and by proxy, Tony Monaco, are the keepers of the flame. They provide a very traditional look at the blues and ballads a la Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff. The combination of vibraphone (Yeager's instrument) and organ is a provocative one and the and the treatments tasty. The songs come from all over the map— a Jimmy Smith "Old Devil Moon," a chicken shack look at "Godchild" and "Blue Bossa" all rounded up under the tent of the original "New Groove Blues. Yeager is more Milt Jackson that Stefon Harris and Monaco is more Jimmy McGriff than Groove Holmes. All of this distills into a pure spirit of soul jazz well played.

For more information, please see Steve Yeager .

Track Listing: Old Devil Moon; Easy Does It; Godchild; The Look Of Love; New Groove Blues; Blue Bossa; Home; Lisa; Face To Face.

Personnel: Steve Yeager—Vibraphone; Tony Monaco—Hammond B-3 Organ; Clay Moore Guitar; Phil Hey—Drums.

Janis Siegel
Friday Night Special
Telarc Jazz

As a founding member of the Manhattan Transfer, Janis Siegel need not prove her jazz credentials. She has been recording as a vocal leader since 1982, when she released Experiment in White on Atlantic. She has released six more recordings since that time, including the well received Tender Trap , I Wish You Love , and now Friday Night Special.

Friday Night Special
departs form Ms. Siegel's earlier recordings in that her band is pared down to the bare essentials—in this case, an organ quartet. Upon hearing that, one might be tempted to think that this is going to be a beer drinking, cigarette smoking, greasy affair... but it is anything but. Friday Night Special is a sexy sophisticated date with Ms. Siegel joining Joey DeFrancesco, Houston Person, Peter Bernstein, Russell Malone, and Buddy Williams.

Produced by music maven Joel Dorn, Friday Night Special is bluesy at its base. Janis Siegel purloins Bill Wither's "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh, Made Me Cry" and makes it her own. Houston Person adds a most tasty tenor obbligato to the piece, riding over the swinging landscape produced by DeFrancesco and company. She dovetails Billy Myles' "My Love Is" into Willie Dixon's "My Babe," with an allusion to "Fever" to boot.

Eddy Arnold's "You don't Know Me" gets the finest non-country attention since Ray Charles recorded it on New Sounds in Country and Western Music. The tenor-organ mix heats up these selections like a fever. The combination feels infectiously swinging and smart. Ms. Siegel has an intelligently sexy delivery, seasoned, piquant and full-bodied. Friday Night Special is on the shortlist for jazz vocal recordings in 2003.

Visit Telarc Jazz on the web.

Track Listing: The Same Love That Made Me Laugh, Made Me Cry; My, How Time Goes By; I Just Dropped By To Say Hello; My Love Is/My Babe; Let Me Be Me; Ill Wind; You Don't Know Me; There's A Small Hotel; Make Me A Present Of You; Misty.

Personnel: Janis Siegel—Vocals; Joey DeFrancesco—Hammond B3; Houston Person—Saxophones; Peter Bernstein, Russell Malone—Guitar; Buddy Williams—Drums.

Skip Heller with Dose
The Battle in Seattle 3.13.03
Jewbilee Records

Skip Heller is the West Coast Uri Caine with a much more wicked sense of humor. That comparison should be flattering to both parties, as they were friends growing up on the fertile jazz streets of Philadelphia. Both men like to apply jazz, or simply music, if you will, in the most unlikely places. Mr. Heller's most recent sightings have involved a retrospective ( Career Suicide ) and a new recording ( Homegoing ). Ever searching, Mr. Heller finds himself traveling on The Battle in Seattle from his Hollywood home to Seattle Washington to...

Hook up with an amazing rhythm section that plays together all the time, have about ninety minutes of rehearsal, and hit the world's smallest stage...[playing] a bunch of tunes you like but never played...

That is the Wild West spirit. One mark of a good musician is to be able to show up and perform the old standard in any key. Heller takes this thinking one step further by throwing in the added thrill of performing a set of songs singularly by the seat of his pants. It is very much to Mr. Heller's credit and an illustration of his considerable talent that everything comes off so well. Instead of supporting songs off of his most recent recording, Heller elects to devote his attention to songs associated with Prince, Miles Davis, Dean Martin, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson Five. He does contribute one composition, a blues called "Emiko."

The Battle in Seattle
documents what Mr. Heller contends is the way his guitar playing really sounds. If this is so, he has much to be proud of. The music is as fresh as a spring strawberry bursting on the roof of your mouth, bristling with ideas, some clever, some genius. Prince's "Sometimes It Snows In April" is transformed into an organ-guitar jazz ballad, equal parts surf guitar, Joe Pass, and Danny Gatton. "Freddie The Freeloader" is taken at a fast clip and incorporates Heller's worldview effectively by passing through a dozen or so guitar styles before ending.

His band, Dose, serves as a great supporting cast: crack rhythm-meisters. Joe Doria's organ playing, understated and refined, allows him to effectively displays his chops without showing off. John Wicks, the next "Funky Drummer," lends an infectious beat to Stevie Wonder's "Fun Day."

The disc highlight is Heller's cover of "Never Can Say Goodbye." He transforms this Motown classic into a rapturous anthem of rock, blues, soul, R&B, country, and, of course, funk. Mr. Heller's guitar playing is very urbane and classy and only in a few places..."completely unhinged like a bastard child of Cecil Taylor and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson." But, then again, that is the gravy.

Visit Skip Heller on the web.

Track Listing: Sometimes It Snows In April; Freddie The Freeloader; Arriverderci, Roma; Fun Day; Emiko; Never Can Say Goodbye.

Personnel: Skip Heller—Guitar; Joe Doria—Organ; John Wicks—Drums.

Ken Clark Organ Trio
Eternal Funk
Severn Records

Slowly but surely, the organ trio is beginning to enjoy a healthy resurgence. Spurred on by the recent likes of Joey DeFrancesco, Tony Monaco, and Larry Goldings and the front guard of Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Jimmy McGriff, home cookin' has become fashionable again. Presently, organist Ken Clark and his trio are submitted for your approval.

Ken Clark leads a tidy organ guitar trio that specializes in funk. The band's arrangements and executions of two standards and eight originals are hermetically sealed and swing hard in spite of it all. This is not blues-based organ music. It is also not the meandering Jam Band produce of recent memory. While I am sure these guys can (and do) stretch out, here the trio holds things down to short epistles rather than sprawling novels. The longest song is 6:15 ("Truth Is"), the shortest 3:28 ("Eternal Funk").

Immediately noticeable is Clark's deft footwork. "Eternal Funk" begins with a slick bass line that gives way to a full-force gale of hurricane funkiness. This shows up again on "Duke Ellington Superstar" and "Rhythm & Biz." The former, an original Clark composition is perhaps the finest and tightest combo playing on the disc, sporting the insistent rhythm of Mike Mele and Steve Chaggaris, whose chase of Clark's off-time antics lead to a most foot-tapping song. Miles' "Blue in Green" receives a beautifully mellow reading, funky as a house rent party to be sure, but a wonderful ballad performance and well treated by this format.

This is not fried chicken eatin,' cold beer drinkin,' Lucky Strike smokin' organ trio music. It goes with peanuts and cashews, a traditional gin martini, and a twenty dollar cigar. A super freshman effort indeed.

Visit The Ken Clark Organ Trio and Severn Records .

Track Listing: Eternal Funk; The Curse; Duke Ellington Superstar; Blue in Green; The Doctor is In; Right Now; Young One; Rhythm & Biz; On The Cuff; Truth Is.

Personnel: Ken Clark—Hammond B-2 Organ, Fender Rhoades; Mike Mele—Guitar; Steve Chaggaris—Drums.

Sylvia Cuenca / Kyle Koehler / Dave Stryker
Exit 13
Etoile Records

Sylvia Cuenca is an up-and-coming drummer/percussionist who has plied her wares with the likes of Clark Terry (check out Herr Ober ), David Glasser, Ron McClure, Don Friedman, and Eddie Henderson. She now co-leads the Exit 13 date with organist Kyle Koehler, who most recently has been providing piano support to Matthew Parris (see Circles ). Here, Koehler trades the eighty-eight for an organ and the duo adds the capable Dave Stryker to the mix to produce a low-fat organ trio. Stryker most recently may be heard supplying Anglo-Latin grit to Trio Mundo (see Carnival ).

Having introduced the principals, the trio performs a seamless brand of jazz that is all bean sprouts and fruit juice, as opposed to the barbecue and beer of Jimmy Smith and Grant Green. Nothing wrong with that. Stryker kicks off the party with a blues, "Miss C's Shuffle" ostensibly dedicated to the band's beautiful leader. Stryker also donates the upbeat "Happy," on which Koehler lays down a plush carpet of groove, accented by Ms. Cuenca's deft traps. Koehler provides the title track, offering the drummer to show off her chops, and "Big Ed," a cool funk piece. Lester Young swing is represented with "Ritha," a piece that strolls along with the Rodgers and Hart standard, "Easy to Remember."

Exit 13
is a wholesome dose of healthy jazz, well conceived and performed. Highly recommended.

Track Listing: Miss C's Shuffle; Exit 13; Slow, Hot Wind; Big Ed; Ritha; Minor League; Happy; It's Easy to Remember; Croquet. (Total Time 60:26).

Personnel: Sylvia Cuenca-Drums; Kyle Koehler-Organ; Dave Stryker-Guitars.

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