CD Reviews: Organics
The Hammond organ has a venerable jazz history. After its invention in 1934, its widespread adoption by African-American churches gave it rich, gospel overtones that carried into jazz and R&B in the 50s and 60s, when skilful improvisers such as Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff used the instrument’s warm sound and funky dynamics to create a bluesy, down-home genre that was equal parts bebop complexity, country soul and urban cool. That tradition was deepened by the great Larry Young, who assimilated the harmonics of John Coltrane to the instrument before the onslaught of electronic keyboards pushed the Hammond into abeyance in the 1970s.
Since the early 90s, the Hammond has re-entered the mainstream, both as a continuation of the soul-jazz groove and as an application of its unique palette of colours and textures to the exploration of new musical horizons. Organics is Ireland’s finest contribution to this tradition, and over the last decade this trio of Justin Carroll on Hammond C3, John Moriarty on guitar and Kevin Brady on drums has been a staple of the Irish jazz scene, pleasing audiences with a rousing offering of swinging, gospel-inspired tunes and more adventurous originals.
A product of the Living Room Project collective, Liquid Sunshine is the band’s second released recording. From the opening title track you know you are in the company of musicians who know each other well – this is music that is assured, balanced and deceptively laid back. Beneath the relaxed mood, anchored with great subtlety by Brady’s drumming, is a focused sense of collective purpose that frees Carroll and Moriarty to build solos that are always fluent and interesting. Like the US guitarist Peter Bernstein, Moriarty’s excursions are highly melodic, whereas Carroll, as in his piano work, prefers more oblique voicings. Together, they blend with unerring taste and real musical power.
The result is an album that takes its point of departure from the Smith-McDuff tradition, but arrives at a place closer to contemporary trios like those led by Larry Goldings and John Abercrombie, where a delicate touch and sophisticated harmonic interplay are more important than swirling histrionics. And the band’s writing supports such an approach. Moriarty’s tunes, such as ‘Rubberlegs’ and ‘Darkside’, tend to be the more straightforward, with sinuous melodies and deep blues feeling. Brady and Carroll contribute more off-centre pieces, the most interesting of which is the oddly titled ‘They Say He Was the Ocean’, featuring a brooding organ solo that is a good example of Carroll’s creative harmonic sense.
Mostly, however, this is a celebratory recording, and the excellent production values ensure that we are hearing what the musicians intended – music both cerebral and soulful that doesn’t fail to keep your feet tapping.
Published on 1 January 2009
Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.