I’m a big fan of jazz CDs that have the Hammond B3 at the heart of the action. The leader doesn’t have to be the organist for the recording to stand out. The sound enhances the music regardless. Here are a few gems.
Gary Smulyan’s brings his baritone sax to the world of the jazz organ combo here. In part, it is a tribute to late organist Don Patterson. It includes the Patterson compositions “Aries” and “Up in Betty’s Room,” as well as Smulyan’s “Blues for DP.” The band, with B3 player Mike LeDonne, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Kenny Washington, also tackles “Pistaccio," the Pee Wee Ellis tune that organist Rhoda Scott liked to play; George Coleman’s “Little Miss Half Steps” and Bobby Hebb’s 1960s pop hit “Sunny,” as well as two more Smulyan originals. Smulyan is best known for his extensive big band work. It is a treat to hear him in the organ combo context.
The gregarious saxophonist James Carter seems to get most earthy and exuberant with his organ trio, which he formed more than 10 years ago. The core band, with B3 player Gerard Gibbs and drummer Leonard King Jr., is augmented by guitar, vocals and/or horn section on five tracks. Among the many treats: the way Carter cuts loose on “My Whole Life Through,” which was written by veteran B3 player Sarah McLahler and guitarist Eddie Durham, as well as Julius Hemphill’s “The Hard Blues” and Big Maybelle’s “Ramblin’ Blues.”
This quintet, anchored by B3 player Joey DeFrancesco, includes drummer Steve Gadd and three fine Canadian players - bassist Peter Cardinali, pianist Robi Batos and saxophonist John Johnson. The band collaborated in writing six of the eight tracks, adding Cedar Walton’s classic “Bolivia” and Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” to close things out. It’s soulful and impressive. At varying points, it’s bluesy, gritty, warm, subtle and soulful. There’s a lot to love.
There’s a modernist/ classical music approach here, with Charette’s B3 holding its own amid a bright and ambitious horn section and added propulsion from drummer Jochen Rueckert. The horn choir is solid, with Jay Collins on flute, Mike DiRubbo on alto sax, Joel Frahm on tenor sax and John Ellis on bass clarinet. Charette’s writing is clever and whimsical. Dig, for example, “Fugue for Kathleen Anne/Ex-Girlfriend Variations” and “The Elvira Pacifier.” “Prayer for an Agnostic” ironically is one of the most soulful tracks. “Late Night TV” and “Tambourine” are the most robust.
Keyboard players Alan Pasqua and John Beasley use the B3 to great effect on one track apiece on reed player Bob Sheppard’s latest project. Paasqua’s organ work helps set the agenda on the the title track opener, while Beasley cuts loose on Joe Henderson’s “Gazelle.” The CD is a terrific showcase for Sheppard’s instrumental versatility and solid sound. Other key players include trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, guitarist Larry Koonse and drummer Antonio Sanchez.