Having grown up in the golden era of the soulful, hard-bop jazz organ trio, I have particularly fond memories of hearing this style of music that was so prevelant in the sixties and early seventies, when almost every lounge on the east coast had a B3 on its stage. Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Charles Earland and Jack McDuff were but a few of the names that created some memorable sounds on their B3's with those rotating Leslie speakers. But the basic sound of the organ trio has barely changed since Larry Young started to move in a new more progressive Coltrane-inspired direction in the seventies, before his untimely dealth. Now along comes Brian Charette.
Keyboard artist Brain Charette originally hails from Meriden, CT, where he was influenced to play the piano at an early age by his mother, herself an excellent pianist. He studied music at the University of CT where he received his BA and toured Europe as a working musician. He was drawn to the culture and jazz scene in Prague and lived in the Czech Republic for a time. As early as age seventeen, Charrette was working with jazz legends like Houston Person and Lou Donaldson. He took up the organ more seriously in the 1990s when he was finding more work playing organ than playing piano. For the past several years he has made the East Village of New York City his home and he can be often seen in New York accompanying other artists whenever an organist is required. His keyboard skills have been recognized and utilized by such top tier pop artist as Chaka Khan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.
On his latest self-released album Kǘrrent, Charette is joined by guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Jordan Young. Reportedly, the trio has been working on this original music for the last two years and it shows by the groups tight and intuitive interaction. Charette has labeled the group a “futuristic circuit bent organ trio,” with the intention of preserving the core tradition of the organ-guitar-drums jazz-trio format and extending it into modernity with the addition of electronics and by conceiving more contemporary compositions.
The group starts off with “Doll Fin,” a catchy rythmically driven song, with Charette providing a driving bass line,(presumably with his B3 foot pedals or on a loop), then inserting a mechanistic, almost robotic sounding ostinato keyboard line. You can almost imagine the cool efficiency of an assembly-line of robotic arms working in musical unison. Monder’s guitar lines enter and eventually morph into a ripping, more distorted solo as Young provides skillfully placed crashes and splashes. Charette returns with a more traditional sounding B3 solo before reprising his robotic synth work and Monder’s repeating guitar lines. The song ends in a flurry by Young as Charette and Monder play a unison, electronic drone that decays at the finale. Welcome to the future of organ trios.
Other songs that employ a more traditional organ trio sound include the bouncy “Time Changes” and the memorable ballad “Honeymoon Phase,” although Charette manages to include a synthetic harpsichord and some spacey electronic accents at the end of “Time Changes.”
Charette and company always keep the music moving and the keyboardist is quite adept at using his Hammond pull bars to create just the right sound. Monder shows a beautiful harmonic sense in his deft accompaniments and Young is equally atuned to the group effort.
“Mano Y Mano” features some vocoder tempered vocals and some raw guitar work by Monder. The otherwise atmospheric “Shooby’s Riff” contains a strange repeated, electronically altered vocal riff that is indecipherable to my ears and that breaks the mood and rhythm of the song. There is a sci-fi element to this one that conjures up images of space travelers encountering looped transmissions from alien life.
There are three, short “Intermezzos;” small musical vignettes that seem like free improvisations that use electronically altered, textural interplay between keyboard, guitar, voice and drums.
The synth and organ driven “Conquistador” is like a musical journey to places that seem at once familiar and at the same time strangely foreign. Juxtaposing sounds that combine the weird and fanciful with the exotic, Charette and company are able to transport you into a Lucas-like world reminiscent of the bizarre alien bar scene from the original Star Wars. Back to the Future indeed.
The futuristically funky “5th Base” is a driving vamp that allows Monder to shred a little with a nasty, distorted sound that pierces through your flesh. Charette has obviously been influenced Larry Young’s forward thinking style, but he has also been influenced by some of the synth masters of years gone by, as I hear elements of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman in his playing on this wild electronic jaunt.
There is a Minuet quality to the opening of “The Shape of Green,” Charette and Monder trading lines in a formal dance of notes behind the cadenced traps of Young. Eventually the song breaks into a repeating vamp, then opens up to a Monder guitar solo that pierces through clouds of electronic sounds that rainmaker Charette conjures up like a weather shaman.
The finale is a song titled “Catfish Sandwich,” and has a Monkish sounding line to it. This leads to an adrenaline driven electronic disco beat. Monder lets loose as Charette and Young provide the rhythmic drive. Charette changes over to the traditional B3 sound and the trio starts to percolate as he plays some of the most inspired straight organ soloing on the album. The intensity builds to a frenzy at the coda with Young providing a bombardment of traps, toms and cymbals to the end.
By mastering the myriad of possibilities that can be produced on a Hammond B3, incorporating synthesized and electronic effects tastefully and utilizing inventive arrangements, Charette, Monder and Young have managed to create a hybrid jazz-organ-trio sound that rockets into the future. Their music just might be the natural heir apparent to the progressive legacy of organist Larry Young.