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Michael Kocour: Spiffy

David A. Orthmann By

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Though a soulful swing-to-bop ethos reminiscent of the popular organ combos of the mid-to-late twentieth century is evident throughout, at its core Spiffy speaks to the malleability and open-endedness of the standard elements of jazz performance. Michael Kocour is the leader of the date, but the record's triumph is collective in nature. It's difficult to imagine substituting any member of the quartet—or, for that matter, isolating the solos from the tightly knit ensemble work. The band rejuvenates the classic Hammond B3 organ (Kocour), sax Eric Schneider, guitar (Bruce Forman) and drums (Dom Moio) format in part by a judicious use of familiar tools such as riffs amid the soloists and shout choruses, all which proffer an abundance of textures as well as the assurance that something new and exciting is always just around the corner. One of the pleasures of the record is being kept guessing as to when and where these devices will be employed.

Another defining characteristic is the momentum generated by the clearly defined sound of Kocour's bass line and the light, clean properties of Moio's drums and cymbals. From the wicked up-tempo swing of the leader's "Dropped Third Strike," to the elegant glide of Neal Heftis "Girl Talk" to the loose-jointed gait of Foreman's calypso "Collapso," the music is better for the fact that Moio—the ultimate team player—isn't anxious to fill up empty space. An air of ease and relaxation prevails at fast tempos and during tricky ensemble passages, and each of the disc's nine tracks stands out without straining for visceral effect. The nice, lazy momentum of Forman's "Monk's Hayride" is every bit as effective as the burning drive of the band during the solos on Kocour's "Huffininpuffin."

The task of isolating individual solos that are embedded in a tight ensemble package may go against the grain of the whole project, but let it be said that Kocour, Schneider, and Forman all make a distinct impression. Kocour displays a knack for digging into his own bass line and Moio's time, making you feel the beat in everything he plays. Though he's capable of making the instrument scream just like the Hammond B3 masters of yore, his primary asset, particularly on middling-to-up tempo tracks such as his "Dropped Third Strike," "Huffininpuffin," and "Spiffy," is the ability to offer brief, edgy phrases in a manner that nearly disguises a logical march of ideas, and then maintaining a state of equilibrium while increasing the excitement by lengthening the lines.

To his credit Schneider never sounds like he's merely running changes, playing over, or disregarding the rhythm section. Regardless of the type of material or tempo, he's a raconteur who generally takes his sweet time, often deliberately sounding out each note for maximum effect. More often than not, his tenor saxophone stylings are gruff, soulful, and to the point. Solos on the alto tend to be more fluid and less earthbound. Schneider's opening gambit on "Collapso" stubbornly spits out variations of a single phrase amidst Forman's pecking single notes and chords, evolves into a somewhat more flexible, conventional course, and eventually hits on a portion of Bud Powells "Wail."

The splendid tone of Forman's guitar—a round, medium weight sound which contains a prickly edge—exudes an air of quiet authority. It's a pleasure to hear him deftly navigate the bebop byways of "Dropped Third Strike" and "Spiffy." His work on the low-keyed "Girl Talk" is an inspired amalgam of small, telling gestures, silences, as well as subtle changes in dynamics and emphasis. Sitting comfortably in the cushion of Kocour's warm chords and Moio's sweeping brushwork, Forman's tone is the basis of an understated yet enveloping blues ambiance that doesn't need to reach for a climax.

In the glut of recent releases that feature the Hammond B3 organ in any number of stylistic shapes and sizes, Spiffy stands out by virtue of the esprit de corps of Kocour and his cohort—and, most of all, it's highly enjoyable from start to finish.

Track Listing: Dropped Third Strike; Chunky; Da Good Stuff; Tenderly; Huffininpuffin; Collapso; Girl Talk; Spiffy; Monk’s Hayride.

Personnel: Michael Kocour, Hammond B3 organ; Eric Schneider, alto and tenor saxophone; Bruce Forman, guitar; Dom Moio, drums.

Title: Spiffy | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Self Produced

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