Sunday, 3 July 2016
Bluesin' With The B3 - Wayne Goins
Review: Whilst listening to this album, a meditation on the limitations of popular music criticism by Simon Reynolds came to mind. In his excellent work on electronic dance music, Energy Flash, Reynolds writes of the completely different vocabulary needed to write about a form of music that defied the 'literary' readings that worked for the majority of rock music. He points out that it's pointless talking about melody, harmony and lyrical content when dance music is (largely) designed specifically to bypass these notions; how can one nod along at home next to the stereo to a music that demands is tailored for communal consumption, drug consumption and bodily expression?
Now, jazz and dance are not the same, but for me, someone who is used to thinking about music as something to be read, I do find a commonality inasmuch as I struggle to find the right language when talking about it. As someone who grew up mostly listening to rock, being confronted with an album of organ trio instrumental numbers is a daunting prospect. Oh, and the guitarist is my father-in-law, who I'll be staying with in November this year, so no pressure.
Some things I do know; I can recognise virtuosity when I hear it. Jazz has a rich tradition of improvisation and exploration, an approach which is mirrored in (some) rock music (think Duane Allman, Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert - for example). Similarly, I muck around on guitar, so I can confirm that daddy-o is a crack musician (as would befit the Director of Jazz Studies at Kansas State University). I even know just enough to suggest that his style is not a million miles away from Wes Montgomery. There we go - slightly more than would fit on the back of a postage stamp, but amply accommodated by a standard C5 envelope.
The Hammond B3, on the other hand, is a universe of mystery to me. In the liner notes, Wayne mentions a bunch of players, of whom I've only heard of two (Lonnie Liston Smith, Jimmy McGriff) and consciously heard the music of one (McGriff). So, with apologies, as far as I can tell Ken Lovern is a fine player. Bear in mind that for me, organs pretty much come in two flavours - Keith Emerson and Korla Pandit. Ken doesn't sound like either, incidentally.
Recorded live, credit must also go to producer David Brown for capturing an instrument - the B3 - that can be notoriously tricksy due to the ultra-deep bass notes that can be produced by its Leslie cabinet. It can result in a blowy, fuzzy low-end mess, especially in a live situation - emphatically not the case here.
The best thing on this album is the wonderful, lilting Kenny Dorham track 'Blue Bossa', with its seductive rhythmic undertow and faint ghosts of Sidney Bechet's 'Egyptian Fantasy'. Another highlight is 'A Gogo', a moody, funky, almost gutbucket Jon Scofield composition. The first half 'A Gogo' also features Wayne's smokiest playing (Wayne, feel free to disagree with me on this one, but I'm right here, just as I'm right about Bob Dylan's output in the Eighties (a giant waste of time, incidentally)) on the night. I'm also a bit of a sucker for Duke Ellington so I'm happy to hear 'In A Sentimental Mood' sounding so lovelorn and bittersweet.
The album ends on Jimmy Smith's 'Back At The Chicken Shack', an opportunity to hear organ and guitar making the pentatonic scale sweat a bit. There's a moment at 3.15 when Ken just jabs his finger at a single note repeatedly, likes what he hears, and carries on jabbing - it's downright nasty. To me, that's what makes this album such a treat - the two principals know exactly when to push and pull, when to dial back and when to cut loose. This understanding is what elevates the music from technically brilliant renditions to a space where genuine mood and atmosphere is created.
If you like what I've written, why not buy the album, or indeed anything else by Wayne Goins and keep me in the good graces of my in-laws? Many thanks in advance.