November 17, 2009
Michiel Braam’s Wurli Trio
BBB CD 11
18th & Vine 18V 1057
Both Michiel Braam and Akiko Tsuruga are non-Americans who with these CDs have created accessible slices of electrified keyboard jazz. Yet the comparison stops right there.
Braam is a prize-winning composer and improviser from the Netherlands who leads the 13-piece Bik Bent Braam band and usually a trio with bassist Wilber de Joode and drummer Michael Vatcher. He is also coordinator of the Jazz department of Arnhem’s College for the Arts. Rather than being non-functional, however, this CD is his version of a busman’s holiday away from his more severe compositions and improvisations. It allows him to experiment with the wriggling, near-cheesy tremolo textures produced from this portable Wurlitzer piano – last manufactured in 1982 – whose two mounted loudspeakers, mechanical sustain pedal and fixed-rate tremolo effects, give the miniature keyboard a sound that’s resembles both that of an electric piano and an electric organ.
If the Wurlitzer is the joker in the electronic keyboard pack, then Osaka-born Akiko Tsuruga is working with the king: the storied Hammond B-3 organ. Now New York-based, Tsuruga leads her own groups and is in the bands of funksters, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson and drummer Grady Tate.
This soul-jazz influence shows. Not only Tsuruga’s band include two members of another soul man – organist Brother Jack McDuff –’s final working combo – tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon and drummer Rudy Petschauer – but featured guitarist Eric Johnson also logged time in organ combos. Overall, Tsuruga is unabashedly influenced by earlier soul-jazz organists including Charles Earland, Jimmy McGriff and Dr. Lonnie Smith, while this disc encompasses an expected mix of soul lite and jazz soul standards, name checking Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway and Henry Mancini.
Suffused with repeated glissandi and slurs from the organ, funky fills from the guitarist, rubato tonguing from the saxophonist and a steady backbeat from the drummer, even the old-time shuffles and usually dulcet ballads are taken at a healthy clip. Nearly every tune is a foot-tapper; a few showcase exaggerated rhythms due to the addition of percussionist Wilson “Chembo” Corniel; and each one sticks close to the melody and makes sure to restate the head. Johnson inserts blues licks at appropriate junctures in the title tune and Weldon’s quotes and glottal obbligatos are impressive on “Frim Fram Sauce”, a warhorse if there ever was one.
There’s also no denying that the organist can engender tingling excitement with her triple stopping dot-dash comping and exaggerated glissandi and crescendos. But with almost every track taken at the same andante tempo, what differentiates “Killing Me Softly” from “The Sidewinder”? Without downplaying Tsuruga’s talents, the question remains of how much original can be done with a standard organ combo more than 50 years after Jimmy Smith’s innovations defined the modern style?
The answer may be supplied by Braam’s disc, which is also rhythmically full of life. But on it, both the keyboard lines and the conception are more inventive. Backed by Pieter Douma on semi-acoustic bass, J-bass, P-bass and fretless bass, plus Dirk-Peter Kölsch on drums and “all possible sound objects” Braam’s nine-track CD is lively alright, but it doesn’t call up visions of 1960s lounges.
With the Wurlitzer’s calliope-like timbres, even when Braam is plays presto runs that relate to a blues sensibility the night-club vibe is missing. Replacing it on a track such as “Non Functional 5”, are skittering and staggering keyboard jumps, perched on top of Kölsch’s ceaseless shuffle rhythms. Here and elsewhere the keyboard action makes it appear as if the pianist is about to lose the theme’s nimble thread until he grasps it with high-frequency cadences. Other tracks feature stop-time pacing or staccatissimo runs from Braam, while Douma’s sluicing pulses and guitar-like chiming keep things both anchored and sonically garlanded
His liquid pulses from the fretless bass operate in unison with quivering organ pulses on “Non Functional 3” then make common cause with Kölsch’s flams, drags and ruffs. Additionally, Douma’s guitar-like arpeggios and the drummer’s clip-clop strokes prevent Braam’s lyrical pop-soul runs from dissolving into flimsiness. Similarly a conclusive rubato sequence from all the players on “Non Functional 8” toughens the airy melody into vamps with additional rattles from Kölsch and double-stopping from Braam.
Non-threatening and pulsating, either of these discs can be enjoyed for its surface sound alone. But only with Non-Functionals are spikier allusions apparent underneath the exposition.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Non: 1. Non-Functional 1 2. Non-Functional 2 3. Non-Functional 3 4. Non-Functional 4 5. Non-Functional 5 6. Non-Functional 6 7. Non-Functional 7 8. Non-Functional 8 9. Non-Functional 9
Personnel: Non: Michiel Braam (Wurlitzer piano 200A); Pieter Douma (semi-acoustic bass, J-bass, P-bass and fretless bass) and Dirk-Peter Kölsch (drums and all possible sound objects)
Track Listing: Arrivals: 1. J’s Groove*# 2. Oriental Express 3. Teach Me Tonight 4.Frim Fram Sauce* 5. Take it Easy# 6.Bright Eyes 7. Killing Me Softly with His Song*# 8. Magic E* 9. Closer I Get to You# 10.Dreamsville* 11. Sidewinder*#
Personnel: Arrivals: Jerry Weldon (tenor saxophone)*; Akiko Tsuruga (Hammond B3 organ); Eric Johnson (guitar); Rudy Petschauer (drums) and Wilson “Chembo” Corniel (percussion)#