March 24, 2003
B3 BOMBERS/CLYDE STUBBLEFIELD
Live! At the Green Mill
Alltribe ATRO 724
Alltribe ATRO 723
Back in the middle to the late 1960s, a few instrumentalists were able to tap into a variant of jazz, blues and funk to become genuinely popular without compromising their improvisational integrity. Tenor saxophonist Gene Jug Ammons was the exemplar, and stylists ranging from organist Brother Jack McDuff and tenor saxophonist David Fathead Newman on the jazz side and organ combos led by Booker T. Jones and even singer James Brown — on organ (!) — aimed for that from a pop perspective.
This was the sort of music New Thing tenorman Archie Sheep celebrated with tracks like Mama Too Tight. Plus those horn-heavy arrangements seeped into the music of questing blues-rock combos like the Butterfield Blues Band, which at one point had future pop saxist David Sanborn and avant-garde mainstay drummer Phil Wilson playing together in the same combo.
But with the demand that pop music become simpler and more concise, most of the more creative organ combo types reverted to playing pure jazz or blues, while heavy-handed disco beats, psychedelic, SciFi funk and the beginnings of what finally became smooth jazz superseded the organ sound, confining it to a few grotty bars on the edge of what most people saw as the wrong side of town. The circumstances that produced it will never return, but a few bands still tap into this history.
Both of these CDs pay homage to that era, creating some living, breathing, funky sounds. Doug Lawrences disc is much more enjoyable however, since its more closely attuned to jazz and doesnt try to overload the presentation with pop touches.
Chicago-based Lawrence, the epitome of the journeyman tenor saxophonist, has backed up figures as disparate as Wayne Cochrane, Céline Dion, Stevie Wonder and Buck Clayton. His major gig is leading a big band that performs at weddings, corporate events, trade shows, conventions and the like. Yet as someone who held down a tenor chair with Mel Lewis big band and in Jimmy Cobbs combo, hes a certainly conversant with all sorts of modern jazz, as he demonstrates on his disc.
Made up of residents of Chicago and nearby Milwaukee, the B3 Bombers have their hearts and funk in the right place. Their CD, recorded live at, The Green Mill, a properly-noisy Windy City dive, certainly approximates what could have heard any night of the week in many clubs up until the late 1960s.
Unfortunately, the groups strongest selling point is also a weakness: former James Brown Band drummer Clyde Stubblefield, who was with the Godfather of Soul when he recorded such hits as Sex Machine, Cold Sweat and Say It Loud. Clearly authoritative time-keeping is second nature to him, but a funk beat is not the same as a jazz-funk beat and he often falls into the sort of predictable patterns a jazzer would avoid. More seriously he takes the lead vocal on Make It Funky and proves authoritatively that he isnt James Brown. The Chattanooga natives turns in a solid, glottal vocal on B.B. Kings classic Sweet Sixteen, though. Go Figure.
The other near misstep comes when Elo Heem, described as a rap-poet, sits in with the Bombers at the end of Its All Good. With the first half of his description more factual than the later, this blast from the future, 1990s style, almost upsets the rugged groove that the band had perfected up to that point. Its interesting to note that the track fades out as Heem is still pontificating.
Instrumentally, organist Dan Trudell, who has worked weekly gigs at the Green Mill since the early 1990s as part of The Sabertooth Organ Quartet with alto saxophonist
Pat Mallinger, is the grease that turns the Bombers wheels. His low-down, but buoyant tones provide the rhythmic impetus and melodic underpinning for most of the tunes, three of which he wrote himself. Considering that Trudells Chi-Town experience includes work with such Ur-jazz/funksters as tenor saxist Von Freeman and guitarist Bobby Broom, that shouldnt come as much of a surprise. His most impressive showcase is on his own Cumulus Day, where his breezy, arpeggio-rich style brings to mind Swing/R&B groovemeisters like Jimmy McGriff and Wild Bill Davis. He knows he has two keyboards and makes plenty of use of them, while Stubblefield holds down the bottom throughout.
Cumulus Day and Make It Funky also give sufficient solo space to former Thundering Herd trombonist Joel Adams. While hes no Fred Wesley, hes definitely a jazzman and his tough open-horned work makes a definite impact. Milwaukee-based guitarist Mike Standal, who has jazz/fusion, jazz and rock experience is a steadfast team player — he was in the house band for the Milwaukee Bucks after all — but his playing lacks individuality. He does the job and thats about it.
Altoist Mallinger and tenorist Lawrence are usually too busy playing unison lines to make much of an impression either. The majority of sax solos go to the altoman here. But while they fit in perfectly, you couldnt pick them out the way Hank Crawfords sound would have stood out with Ray Charles band, for instance.
All in all, this is a good party record for those so inclined. Blues and funk overshadow the jazz as well, so dont go looking for any important improvisational statements here either.
STREET WISE, Lawrences solo session, is a different hunka funk. With New York guitarist Ray Macchiarola and drummer George Fludas filling out the quartet completed by Trudell, this could comfortably fit on the same shelf as many of the classic tenor-organ dates Prestige and Blue Note put out in great abundance in the 1960s.
Tunes range from Rodgers and Hammersteins Hello Young Lovers and Lucky Thompsons Spanyola, done as a bossa nova, to expected soul-jazz numbers penned by organist McDuff and alto saxist/blues singer Eddie Cleanhead Vinson.
As impressive here as with his own band, Trudells comping and soloing bow to the requisite number of organ funk fathers. Though youll note that hes never heavy for its own sake, preferring the sort of clean, almost wobbly style perfected by former pianists such as Big John Patton to the kind of psychedelic boogaloo tone that marked the end of the organ combo era. Particularly noteworthy are his rhythmic fills and quoting on McDuffs Mellow Gravy and Vinsons Mr. Clean.
Fludas is an understated background man, who confines himself to the odd fill, while Macchiarola is another precise stylist. Drawing, it seems, equally on Herb Ellis, Grant Green and Wes Montgomery, the guitarist never overstays his welcome and never overshadowed the bandleader.
Lawrences tone is suitably knife-sharp and tough on the rhythm numbers, yet he also romantically caresses A Portrait On Jenny as if his horn was wrapped in a velvet glove. Its the type of mellow balladic style that Jug and Eddie Lockjaw Davis perfected, and here and elsewhere the saxist demonstrates that he deserves the comparison.
Although like the B3 Bombers CD, nothing really exceptional or unexpected happens on the disc, it doesnt mean that it wont be liked by a lot of people —especially those who dont want their jazz spiked with dissonance.
If that description fits you, either or both of these discs could be your pleasure packet(s). Most of the time, though, some of us want some challenge along with our music, something you wont find here.
Track Listing: Live: 1. Surrey Lane 2. Make It Funky* 3. Its All Good+ 4. Cumulus Day 5. Sweet Sixteen* 6. The Seventh Dwarf 8. Baskin In It.
Personnel: Live: Joel Adams (trombone), Pat Mallinger (alto saxophone); Doug Lawrence or Jerry DiMuzio+ (tenor saxophone); Dan Trudell (organ); Mike Standal (guitar); Clyde Stubblefield (drums, vocals*); Elo Heem (vocals+)
Track Listing: Street: 1. Say Little Mama Say 2. Mellow Gravy 7. Hello Young Lovers
Personnel: Street: Doug Lawrence (tenor saxophone); Dan Trudell (organ); Ray Macchiarola (guitar); George Fludas (drums)