The Hammond B-3 organ is one of the most expressive and versatile instruments in popular music today. It can go from a whisper to a scream, take you to church, play lush ethereal chords or sound as percussive and bell-like as a vibraphone and under the feet of a skilled player, make thunderous bass sounds. With its added Leslie speaker cabinet (an amplified speaker with a rotating cone that can be sped up or slowed down to vary the vibrato and, when applied properly, can send chills up your spine), it’s almost a complete band. Add a drummer and a guitarist or horn player and you’ve all the ingredients necessary to do some serious cookin’. And this album features non-stop down-home funk from just about everybody who’s anybody in the pantheon of B-3 players.
The album opens with the venerable duo of organist Jimmy McGriff and tenor player Hank Crawford playing the oft recorded McGriff original “Red Top.” This is a straight ahead blues with searing solos by both players and a great walking bass line. The title cut “Kickin’ The 3” follows by Charles Earland. Here he’s augmented by an unnamed trumpet and tenor player who trade off short but sweet solos while Earland vamps. One of the features of Earland’s solos is his incredibly fast runs up and down the keyboard.
Next up is Joey DeFrancesco, the Philadelphia phenom who burst upon the scene in 1989 when he was all of 17! He elects to cover the Thelonius Monk composition “Evidence” which has a number of rhythmic changes before it starts to cook. DeFrancesco pulls his own weight and sounds every bit as confident (and funky) as the veteran players featured here.
Probably the best known jazz B-3 player is Jimmy Smith. He’s featured here on “Blues For J,” a mid-tempo cooker featuring an unnamed guitarist who I’ll bet is Kenny Burrell [don’t take him up on this bet – ed.]. Smith ups the intensity during his solo by holding one note throughout as he plays around it. You can hear him grunting and wheezing as he urges the notes out on the keyboard.
“Slouchin’,” an original by Lonnie Smith, is a decided change of pace. Its a Latin-tinged tune reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” This has a slightly larger sound as he is accompanied by both a tenor and trumpet player as well as guitarist. Everybody solos effectively here and maintains the groove. The horn chorus is an especially nice touch.
The next tune, “Little Green Men” is by someone with whom I’m not familiar, Larry Goldings. His playing is reminiscent of Larry Young, who was guitarist Grant Green’s frequent collaborator. There’s an excellent sinuous guitar solo here on this minor blues. The drummer also plays a nice doubled rhythm behind it all which keeps the tension high to the end. Also highly regarded in jazz circles is Richard “Groove” Holmes who plays his best known work, the lovely Erroll Garner ballad “Misty.” But it’s no ballad here as Holmes swings it from start to finish. He reads it straight and improvises very little – what makes this work is the tempo and his excellent walking bass line. Interesting to note that this was a Top 40 hit (on the R&B charts) for Holmes in the late 60’s.
The next tune is by Johnny “Hammond” Smith and is called “Lid Flippin’.” Here he’s working with vibraphonist Lem Winchester, who was a frequent session man with Smith among others. Organ and vibes seem to complement each other so well. Smith’s solos are explosive masses of notes before he begins to play in a more linear fashion. There’s also a short tasty guitar solo by a talented unknown.
Brother Jack McDuff has been around since the early sixties, and, in addition to being one of the stalwarts of the B-3, he’s given a number of then-unknown musicians such as guitarist George Benson and tenor player Red Holloway a musical home. On “After Hours” he stops the Hammond to the point that it almost sounds like a piano. This is a slow blues that puts you in that smoky nightclub as the band gets ready to close the place.
The next cut is probably the only one that, in my opinion, really doesn’t belong here. Its an original by the jazz-rock power trio of Medeski, Martin and Wood called “Beeah.” Its a minor dissonant blues with a very dark tone to it. Most notable is this is the only cut not to feature organ bass, but an acoustic one. The musicianship here is excellent, but this particular cut leaves me cold.
With Larry Young’s rendition of Thelonius Monk’s “Monk’s Dream” we have the organ player’s organ player. His playing is almost always as understated as it is here. But listen as he constructs an incredibly complex and intelligent solo. Of course, nobody could accuse Monk of writing simple little ditties either! This is just organ and drums but sounds like a lot more.
Don Patterson’s “Dem New York Blues” is a spry piece featuring a trumpet and tenor chorus percussively opening the tune before Patterson settles down to play some straight-ahead clusters of notes. The tempo begins to speed up. Adding to the urgency is the drummer’s double time on the cymbals. Both the tenor and trumpet player take extended solos while Patterson vamps in the background. The guitarist, who has been playing little rhythmic fills for most of the cut, takes flight with a really nice, lean solo.
The album ends with Jimmy Smith’s “Back At The Chicken Shack” by Will Bouleware, another very talented player whom I did not know before hearing him here. He plays this down-home blues with the same authority Smith would and acquits himself well. There’s a real nice bluesy guitar solo by yet another anonymous great. The track closes with a burning sax solo. When Bouleware closes the song you know exactly where he has taken you!
I’ve only two real complaints about this album and both are minor. As with all compilations of cuts culled from other sources, the recording quality varies wildly from excellent to right on the edge of distortion. However, since the music is so good here, I can easily overlook this. My second beef is only listing the leader and not listing his sidemen on the date. Other than that, this is an excellent collection of a genre that is still alive and well and is a must for any serious collector. You can also safely acquire anything by any of the artists featured here and be very happy with your choice.
(Shanachie Records, 1997)