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First-call drummer Yoron Israel, who’s been featured over the years with the likes of Ahmad Jamal, Abbey Lincoln, Kenny Burrell and Art Farmer, is making a name for himself as a leader these days with his group Organic. On his new album of Coltrane and Coltrane-inspired material, Israel expands his regular organ-guitar trio (Kyle Koehler on organ and Ed Cherry on guitar) to a quintet with the addition of vibraphonist Jay Hoggard and saxophonist Billy Pierce.
An organ-guitar group taking on Coltrane is an uncommon, though not unprecedented idea. Indeed, Israel credits Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Afro Blue album as one of his inspirations. And if Israel’s effort here is any indication, that early ‘90s Smith recording should be well worth searching out. Israel and company deliver fresh, energetic takes on Coltrane classics like “Impressions,” “Lonnie’s Lament” and “Syeeda’s Song Flute,” along with a handful of Coltrane-esque originals. Especially satisfying is a rendition of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” (a tune associated with Coltrane) that opens with some exquisite interplay between Israel on drums and Cherry on acoustic guitar before the rest of the band kicks in.
Koehler is a revelation on organ, a natural heir to the progressive tradition of Jimmy Smith and Larry Young. And Pierce acquits himself well on both tenor and soprano saxophones, in the rather daunting role of filling the master’s shoes. As for Israel, he wisely resists the temptation to try and channel Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones, though Israel is capable of his own protean bursts. Instead, he leads the proceedings with taste and direction, lending a dose of 21st century funk to the Coltrane canon.