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Skip Heller: Out of Time & Bear Flag

Rex  Butters By

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Guitarist Skip Heller continues his organ trio odyssey with two new releases, each featuring a different rhythm section and very different programs. Out of Time recorded live at Tritone in Heller's original home of Philadelphia features organist Lucas Brown and drummer John F. Kennedy. The program consists of a collection of old chestnuts chosen to evoke a period of Philly jazz in effect while an underage Heller snuck into clubs. Even with the Californiana of the title, Bear Flag includes several compositions hearkening back to Heller's Philly roots. This trio boasts Joe Bagg on organ and Ryan Doyle on drum. Besides showcasing Heller's compositions, the trio covers Ellington's "Angelica."

Skip Heller
Out of Time
Dreambox Media
2005

Out of Time sets the Wayback for 1956 to open with "Canadian Sunset." Heller's unadorned Stratocaster has a country sound and lopes good naturedly through the changes. Brown oozes and eases until his solo turn, then he kneads the melody with the organ keys letting variations rise through his fingers. The peppy "Lost Weekend" finds Heller fast and fluent, with Brown rolling in hard. Neal Hefti's "Li'l Darlin'" receives a loving rendition floating in on Kennedy's brushed cymbals. Heller's relaxed expertise unwinds into Brown's more emotionally charged interlude. Appropriately breezy, Bacharach's "Wives and Lovers" provides the hub for a whirl-a-gig spin by Brown, while Heller sends vining variations over the swinging frame, ending with a flourish recalling the bubbling of champagne.

Back to "56 for the ballad, "It's Not For Me to Say," with Heller staying close to the melody and Brown taking liberties. Heller then returns with a collection of deviations, leading into the torch ballad, "All the Way." Taken slow and evocative, Heller goes soulful, speaking in pauses with Brown masterfully coloring the edges. His humid blue moan sobs on a streetlight corner. Not to send the patrons home sad, the bus stops at the "Mambo Inn." The 1952 standard receives a buoyant reading with Heller flashing his genre jumping chops.

Skip Heller
Bear Flag
Dreambox Media
2005

Working his own tunes with a different band, Heller's Bear Flag better demonstrates his omnivoric aesthetic. The first track pays tribute to the Bakersfield country sound, the last sends a love letter to Shirley Scott. With Ryan Doyle's road seam beat setting the pace, "Highway 99" cruises with the windows down. Heller tells a lot of what he knows about American Music, while Baggs follows Heller's lead by keeping his solo lean, crisp, and roadworthy. Written the night of June Carter's death, "Til Things Get Brighter" cuts a slice of mid tempo soul jazz ballad. Heller gently branches through his mid range. Heller remembers his love of Rahsaan with the humorous "Weatherbirds of Prey," only to wax romantic on "Philadelphia." The latter written with erased links to the past in mind, gives Baggs a bluesy touch and Heller pacing reflection.

Inspired by Monk, "Plaid Hat, Red Wagon" swings along straight ahead, only subtly Monkish. "Train Rhythm Blue" features fine filigree guitar lines silkily lace throughout its somber melody. Ellington's "Angelica" struts straight up until Heller digs in for a rigorous run. Baggs brightly splashes Doyle's rigid rhythm. The slippery starry sky of "Letter Home to My Wife," gives Heller's stellar reverb running space. "The Shirley Scott Trio WAS the Time," sends a jumping bouquet home to an old muse. Heller makes it sound easy, and Baggs orchestrates his blues.

Heller's organ trios reflect the leader's deep connection to American musical currents, and his ease juxtaposing seemingly clashing ideas to produce inviting hybrids.

Out of Time

Track Listing: Craig's intro/Canadian Sunset; Lost Weekend; Li'l Darlin'; Wives & Lovers; It's Not for Me to Say; All the Way; Mambo Inn

Personnel: Skip Heller: guitar; Lucas Brown: organ; John F. Kennedy: drums.

Bear Flag

Track Listing: Highway 99; Til Things Are Brighter; Weatherbirds of Prey; Philadelphia; Plaid Hat, Red Wagon; Train Rhythm Blues; Angelica; Letter Home to My Wife; Shirley Scott Trio WAS the Time.

Personnel: Skip Heller; guitar; Ryan Doyle: drums; Joe Bagg: organ.

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