Tag Archives: Organ Jazz

Chris Foreman: Now is the Time

ChrisForeman_NowIsTheTimeSoul time on the Hammond B3

There are few musical sounds as deeply enveloping as the Hammond B3. Whether it’s murmuring warmly, rumbling at its bottom end or stabbing percussively with notes that sound like raw alternating current, the B3 is unmistakable. The Hammond’s variable tones contrast with the imitative voices of other organs, and require both a player’s technique and an artist’s imagination to shape sounds beyond well-defined stops. Moving from piano to organ is a leap, but moving from a standard organ to a B3 requires the player to develop a personal relationship with the instrument.

Chris Foreman is a Chicago-based organist whose style descends (as do most B3 players) from the epochal Jimmy Smith, along with Jimmy McGriff, “Brother” Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Richard “Groove” Holmes and others. He’s most regularly heard at his weekly gigs at the Southside’s Green Mill and St. James African Methodist Episcopal church, and on record with the Deep Blue Organ Trio. The trio’s renown expanded beyond the Windy City a few years ago with an opening slot on Steely Dan’s 2013 U.S. tour, and Foreman ventures forward now with this new album of duets.

The organ is able to stand on its own, provide the centerpoint of trios, or add muscle to larger groups. In duet settings it needs to converse, to ensure that it doesn’t overwhelm its partner. Foreman is skilled at playing both lead and accompaniment, stepping into the initial spotlight with fleet fingers and bold chords for the opening take on Charlie Parker’s “Now is the Time.” He edges slowly into “Shake a Hand,” with a late-night groove that favors Freddy Scott over Little Richard, underlining the piano with his organ and decorating the organ with the piano’s flourishes. You can catch occasional touches of Foreman’s classical training in his fingerings, but he’s never mannered; everything he plays truly swings.

Guitarist Andy Brown and saxophonist Diane Ellis guest on several tracks, providing worthy foils for Foreman’s B3. Brown kicks off a sprightly version of Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue” before giving way to Foreman’s blue chords. Forman returns the favor as he vamps sympathetically behind Brown’s solo, and the two join together for a bridge that leads to Forman’s second variation on the song’s main theme. As someone who plays a weekly club gig, Foreman’s developed a wide-ranging repertoire, drawing upon tunes from Neal Hefti (the atmospheric “Li’L Darlin’”), saxophonist Hank Crawford (“The Peeper,” with Ellis as soloist) and Jimmy McGriff (“Doggone” and “Cotton Boy Blues”).

The organ can evoke memories of churches, movie theaters, county fairs, baseball parks, old-timey pizza restaurants, skating rinks, mall stores, or, perhaps most damning, you father’s den. But it can also evoke the soul of the blues like no other instrument, and in the hands of a master like Chris Foreman, the B3’s notes, chords, drones, bass and volume pedals provide otherworldly transportation to a smoky late-night club. Producers Steven Dolins and Jim Dejong, and engineer Steve Yates have done a superb job of capturing the B3’s wide range of volume and timbre, and have nicely balanced the guitar, saxophone and piano in the duets. Anyone who loves the B3 should check this out! [©2015 Hyperbolium]

The Bumps: Playin’ Italian Cinedelics

Organ trio riffs on ‘60s and ‘70s Italian soundtracks

Given the obscurity of the titles, all but the most devoted Italian cineastes will have to take this trio’s word that these organ-jazz arrangements are based on movie soundtracks. Their best-known inspirations, Ennio Morricone and Piero Umiliani, are augmented by Gianni Ferrio, Piero Piccioni, Luis Bacalov and others. The selections mix breezy sounds of mid-60s la dolce vita with a good measure of early-70s exploitation cinema. Vince Abbracciante’s Hammond, Farfisa and Rhodes range from jazz cool to psych-soul heat, and the rhythm section plays with sharp, percussive force. Wordless vocals add an Esquivelian touch to several tracks, and guest players add flute, sax, flugelhorn, guitar and a duet vocal on Armando Trovajoli’s “L’amore Dice Ciao.” This is a nice spin for Italian cinephiles and lovers of hot organ jazz and cool easy listening. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Shirley Scott Trio” For Members Only / Great Scott!!

Jazz organist lights up Impulse in ’63 and ‘64

After a six-year stay at Prestige, jazz organist Shirley Scott began a lengthy run of albums on Impulse! This two-fer brings together her first two albums for the label, 1963’s For Members Only and 1964’s Great Scott!!  Each album splits its tracks between Scott’s regular trio setting (variously featuring rhythms by Earl May/Jimmy Cobb and Bob Cranshaw/Otis Finch) and arrangements written and conducted by Oliver Nelson. Scott’s Hammond fits well into each setting, leading the trio with terrific energy and verve, and finding space for lower-wattage performances amid Nelson’s charts. Scott’s original tunes, including the superb “Blues for Members,” are given to the trios, with the orchestral numbers drawn largely from jazz and show tunes. The small combo is likely to be more satisfying to those who favor hard-swinging, bluesy shots of Hammond, though Scott’s long musical relationship with Nelson yields some nice results, including a swanky take on Henry Mancini’s “A Shot in the Dark.” [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Little Faith: Spirituals

Hammond organ spirituals flavored with sounds of Nashville and New Orleans

The Hammond organ is no stranger to spiritual music, but seasoned with jazz, blues and country flavors of second line drumming, saxophone, fiddle, and lap steel, Little Faith delivers on what it calls “Madri Gras erupting at a tent revival behind the Grand Ol’ Opry.” The material also mixes things up, ranging from the nineteenth century African-American spiritual “Wade in the Water” (led here by the violin of Leah Zeger) to Christian hymns “I’ll Fly Away” and “How Great Thou Art” to the traditional New Orleans funeral dirge “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (with a terrific blues guitar solo by Nelson Blanton) to the Hebrew “Kol Dodi” and the Carter Family staple “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The album includes only two vocal tracks, a full gospel chorus on “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” and a reprise of “I’ll Fly Away” that complements the opening instrumental. Organist Jack Maeby’s pulled together an assortment of Los Angeles roots musicians who take these tracks to interesting new places anchored by the rock-solid soul of the Hammond. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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The Jackie Davis Quartet: Easy Does It

A lightly swinging Hammond organ album from 1963

Jackie Davis was among the first players to spearhead the organ-jazz genre in the mid-50s. As a pianist who’s accompanied Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, his touch at the keyboard was especially noticeable on the highly responsive electro-mechanical Hammond organ. His repertoire favored jazz, blues and pop standards, ranging from Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” to Arlen and Mercer’s “Blues in the Night” and the twelve-bar “Night Train.” After five years on Capitol, Davis moved to Warner Brothers, where his first release was this 1963 production. As the album title implies, Davis’ small combo takes it easy on the tempos, though the Hammond provides plenty of fire and Earl Palmer’s drumming adds compelling accents. Barney Kessel on guitar and Joe Comfort on bass provide rhythm as Davis’ keys dance across the light swing of the title tune, and his keys deftly wind their way around the Latin beat of “Midnight Sun.” It’s not until the album’s closing take on “Saint Louis Blues” that the band turns up the tempo, with Comfort running up and down the strings and Palmer’s snare drum and ride cymbal getting a workout. This is a fine, low-key organ jazz album from an early master of the form. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]