In a year notable by the too-high incidence of jazz losses, Charles Earland quietly left this planet on Saturday, December 11, 1999. Known as the Mighty Burner for the intense way he commanded the Hammond B-3, the always working, too-heavy 58-year-old Earland made his departure via heart failure following one last performance in Kansas City.
Originally a saxophonist who taught himself the unwieldy organ during a sax stint in Jimmy McGriff's band, Earland made waves as Lou Donaldson's organ player during 1967-68 and had a huge hit his first time out in 1969 with a soul-jazz cover of "More Today Than Yesterday." Right from the git go, Earland coaxed the most individual of sounds from the Hammond B-3, firing off machine-gun osinatos some call a 'typewriter' style. He balanced this with a cavalcade of just-right cushioning from his left hand and, most notably, a string-bassist's command of the organ's difficult foot pedals.
In the last few years Charles Earland became wildly prolific, unleashing a rash of recordings for the High Note, Savant and Cannonball labels. One of the recent Cannonballs even featured fellow organ-grinder Johnny "Hammond" Smith's final recording. Moreover, Earland's playing - and his records - captured some of the highest points in his musical career. After years of plugging away, experimenting with different keyboard effects, psychedelic soul and even interesting forays into disco, Earland fell into the groove he was meant for. Fortunately, High Note still has a few of Earland's recordings left to release, plus another one with Irene Reid.
Earland's May 1997 recording of Slammin' & Jammin', recently released by Savant as part of their "Groove Master Series," is among the Mighty Burner's very best. A collection of familiar and soulful covers, these grooves are ones Earland himself always admired. From Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk" and Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" to Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar" and the late Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mr. Magic," Earland shares his love of these tunes with some especially strong grooving.
Even the organist admits, in Ted Panken's excellent liners, that a lot of organ groups do nothing but lock themselves into this kinda groove (give the people what they want, right?). But Earland has always tried to vary his programs with a bit more substance (either exploring more seriously-regarded jazz standards or alternating the way you expect to hear certain sounds). So it's a rare - and welcome - thing when he just gets down and grooves as he does here.
Maybe it comes from getting down to basics. The eight cookers here - not a ballad in the bunch - ascend from a get-down triumvirate of Earland on the Hammond B-3, with the reliably soulful fuel of the organist's longtime partner in crime, guitarist Melvin Sparks, and funky drummer supreme, Bernard Purdie. They get loose and just play the way they were meant to play.
Carlos Garnett adds his surprisingly warm tenor sax groove to "Honky Tonk," "Let The Music Play," "Mr. Magic" and his own especially appealing "Organyk Groove." Earland himself shines, writing his air-of-the-gods signature on Rudy Van Gelder's organ especially well during his spots for "Honky Tonk," "Sugar," "Mr. Magic" and his own nicely conceived "Blue For Sheila," (Earland's widow).
These guys must have loved doing this date: playing the stuff they like, exactly the way they want. It cooks. Nice of the Mighty Burner to leave such a tasty jam for soul jazz lovers and organ groove fans.
Tracks:Honky Tonk; Sugar; Mercy Mercy; When Johnny comes Marching Home; Organyk Groove; Let The Music Play; Blues For Sheila; Mr. Magic.
Players:Charles Earland: Hammond B-3; Carlos Garnett: tenor sax on "Honky Tonk," "Let The Music Play," "Mr. Magic" and "Organyk Groove;" Melvin Sparks: guitar; Eric Seals: electric bass on "Sugar," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "Organyk Groove" and "Blues For Sheila;" Bernard Purdie: drums; Gary Fritz: percussion on "Sugar," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and "Blues For Sheila."