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Skip Heller Trio at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus in Philadelphia

Edward Zucker By

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Skip Heller
Ortlieb's Jazzhaus
Philadelphia, PA
May 12, 2006

What do Frank Sinatra, The Dead Milkmen, Nat Adderley, Ani DiFranco, Gustav Mahler, and Shirley Scott have in common? You can find the answer in a night of music with guitarist Skip Heller's organ trio, such as the night that Heller, organist Lucas Brown, and drummer Jim Miller played at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus in Philadelphia on May 12, 2006.

In his liner notes to his CD Out Of Time (which coincidently was recorded live in Philadelphia), Heller wrote, "I must have three hundred albums that sound pretty much like this disc. But Heller's trio is not your dad's organ trio: Incorporating traditional blues, ballads, romps, and the grits-and-gravy R&B sound associated with the genre, Heller draws from influences across the musical spectrum.

It certainly seems hard (perhaps impossible?) to fit the artists listed above into one sound or approach, and therein lies the difficulty in pinning down Heller's style. By flowing along with the Heller trio from Heller's favorite Frank Sinatra song to a tune dedicated to Ani Difranco, the listener begins to grasp the fertile playground from which Heller draws inspiration.

In the wrong hands, or with the wrong musicians, this night could have turned horribly wrong. It could have seemed kitschy, campy or a parody of sorts. Instead, this performance was not so much a jazz performance as it was a musical collage. Watching and listening to Heller's band was akin to watching a top spin on a table - coming close to the edge but not falling. Heller took the audience on a wild ride with his complex runs and eclectic setlist, yet also kept thing relatively safe with his logical progressions and melodic sense.

With Dean Clean (the drummer from The Dead Milkmen) and legendary Philly drummer Micky Roker in attendance, Heller and his bandmates started off with a tribute to Roker and Scott entitled "Shirley Scott Trio Was The Time, which segued into The Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl. The band also played Nat Adderley's "Work Song," (albeit with apologies for playing it in the wrong key), and finished off the night with an equally illogical closer - "Funeral March From Mahler #5, which appears on Heller's album Liberal Dose.

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