Too Damn Hot
Palmetto PM 2105

Deep Blue Bruise
Delmark DE 556

At last, two honest, straight-ahead organ trio records.

Using the guitar-organ and drums format that has been standard since Wild Bill Davis invented the genre in the late 1940s, the members of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s band and the Deep Blue Organ trio score because they pointedly don’t try to supposedly improve or update the style.

Thus there are no affectations here such as 20-minute jam band-like noodling; no additional synthesizer or other electronic riffs added to simple, yet powerful rhythms; and no attempts to transform grunge classics into funk numbers. Instead the bands work out on a collection of originals, jazz and rock classics and — to be honest — tunes that skirt schlock, making them all instant foot tappers that impress as they lock into the groove.

TOO DAM HOT does break from formula in one way. Rodney Jones, who has worked with ex-JBs trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker, adds his rhythm guitar work to that of lead guitarist Peter Bernstein, who often plays with organist Larry Goldings, as well as with Smith in altoist Lou Donaldson’s combo. Fukushi Tainaka who also plays in Donaldson’s band, splits drum duties with young lion Greg Hutchinson throughout.

Famous for his flowing white beard and colorful turbans, self-proclaimed groove “doctor” Smith has collaborated with guitarist George Benson and saxophonists Donaldson and David “Fathead” Newman. Buffalo, N.Y.-born, he began as a singer, a talent he demonstrates on “Your Mama’s Got a Complex”, a salacious party time ditty built on chicken scratching rhythm guitar riffs. Chortling organ riffs echo the title whose additional — and only other — lyrics are “she thinks she’s hot/but she’s not”. Everyone contributes to the verbalized snickering.

More typical of the tunes — all except for two written by Smith — are “The Whip” and “Track 9”, which is actually track six. A stop-time original with floating bass line, the first begins with a whacked chord from the organ that’s whip-like in its intensity. Featuring a blusey guitar lead, Smith, playing agitato, slithers all over the keys, and manages to work a quote from “I’m an Old Cowhand” into his solo.

Dependent at first on Motown-inflected rhythm guitar sizzle. “Track 9” also highlights a wah-wah guitar lead plus Hutchinson using inverted sticking, rebounds and dynamic accents. Stabbing repeated, reverberating timbres from his keys, the organist leads the others in breaking up the standard line with dissonance so that it ends up sounding like a musical traffic jam.

Elsewhere, Bernstein makes a point of inserting modern progressions into his solos, but in such a way that aids the output without showboating. Meantime Smith’s contributions are usually marked by a consistent throbbing ostinato and double-timed cadenzas that flash across the octaves.

Using brushes, Tainaka helps create a gentle mood for the recasting of Horace Silver’s “Silver Serenade”. Interestingly enough, the organist’s slow, pitch-sliding tempo here is more reminiscent of the styles of Earl Grant or Bill Doggett than more modern organists

Those two would have been familiar with “Someday My Prince Will Come”, which is taken as a shuffle, quicker than the familiar version recorded by Miles Davis. Although this is the longest track, it doesn’t seem that way, as Smith’s keys sing the melody and he embellishes it with quick quotes from “Heart and Soul”. “It Might As Well Be Spring” and “My Favorite Things”. Here and other spots though the audio is somewhat inconsistent with Smith’s Lionel Hampton-like grunting clearly heard, but Bernstein’s guitar underrecorded.

Standards are what distinguish DEEP BLUE BRUISE from the other session. Only the title tune is an original, with the Chicago-based trio otherwise recasting expected and unexpected sources. These include Joe Henderson’s “Granted”, Isaac Hayes’ “Café Regio’s”, Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” plus “These Foolish Things”, “Willow Weep For Me”, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and even “It Was A Very Good Year” and “Light My Fire”[!].

Guitarist Booby Broom, whose associations included stints with funk trumpeter Tom Browne, tenor master Sonny Rollins and as part of Kenny Burrell’s four-guitar band, is the national name here. No stranger to organ combos, he had a long relationship with the late organist Charles Earland, and a few years ago recorded a quartet session featuring Smith on organ. Drummer Greg Rockingham, who also worked with singer Freddie Cole, was in the Earland band as well. Although Chris Foreman’s background encompasses soul dues with bluesman Albert Collins, R&B drummer Bernard Purdie and funk saxophonist Hank Crawford — not to mention playing piano at a local AME church — his organ playing has less tremolos and frequent crescendos than Smith’s. It’s funky, but restrained and refined at the same time — he never overuses effects. Deep Blue’s Secret weapon is Rockingham who, in the majority of cases is as diffident as a drummer in these circumstances can be — his beat is sensed not heard.

You can get an idea of this on “It Was A Very Good Year”, the old Frank Sinatra chestnut. Treated with the seriousness it deserves, the drummer’s flams, rolls and bounces are barely there, contributing to the gentle swinging pulse. Using a rapid, but cool tremolo, Foreman limns the melody, with snapping echoes from Broom. When the organist’s lines turn stentorian with double keyboard work, it’s only to express counterpoint with the guitarist. Eventually both relax into theme variations than recapitulation.

Broom’s fleet-fingered fills on “Willow Weep For Me arise generically from the tune; they’re not added on for prettiness or funkiness. Cooking, the organ man’s flailing double and triples stops accelerate in the last couple of minutes to portamento riffs as the drummer pounds out a beat you’d be more likely to hear behind “Got My Mojo Workin’”. Finally, Foreman turns to repeated slurs with one hand holding on to the drone and the other cracking off theme variations.

“Can’t Hide Love” finds Broom suddenly quoting “A Love Supreme” while Foreman’s squealed and smeared licks encompass Brother Jack McDuff-like protracted held notes. Meanwhile “Granted” retains its fast bebop form as Broom picks out high intensity vamps, Foreman’s octave spanning stops-and-starts, and plenty of room for drum breaks from Rockingham.

Using reverb pulsations, the three manage to make something funky out of the rock trifle “Raspberry Beret”, but a couple of tracks are beyond redemption. Unlike Dexter Gordon’s version, the trio’s “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” sags under cocktail lounge stiffness that almost turns stifling, while “Light My Fire” features some double time variations on a theme that wasn’t too instrumentally strong in the first place. Rockingham is reduced to simple rock band pounding. Broom does get both a slurred lead and bass lines from his guitar, but he’s not only more mature than Robbie Kreiger was in 1967, but a better player. And it goes without saying that Foreman’s swinging right hand supersedes anything Ray Manzarek could have done to the hit composition. Still the band should seek out better cover material.

With fewer missteps and a more vigorous presentation, superficially TOO DAM HOT provides more excitement than DEEP BLUE BRUISE. However both are fine examples of the continued legitimately of the jazz-funk organ trio — in the right hands. Foreman’s notable subtlety however, means that with an addition of stronger song choices, the Deep Blue three should triumph as well.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Hot: 1. Norleans* 2. Too Damn Hot +3. Back Track* 4. The Whip + 5. Silver Serenade + 6. Track 9 * 7. One Cylinder * 8. Someday My Prince Will Come + 9. Your Mama’s Got a Complex* 10. Evil Turn

Personnel: Hot: Dr. Lonnie Smith (organ); Peter Bernstein (guitar) Rodney Jones (rhythm guitar); Greg Hutchinson* or Fukushi Tainaka+ (drums)

Track Listing: Deep: 1. These Foolish Things 2. Café Regio’s 3. It Was A Very Good Year 4. Raspberry Beret 5. Granted 6. Can’t Hide Love 7. Willow Weep For Me 8. Light My Fire 9. Polka Dots and Moonbeams 10. Deep Blue Bruise

Personnel: Deep: Chris Foreman (organ); Bobby Broom (guitar); Greg Rockingham (drums)