We have all been to concerts, all had the experience of entering a venue and seeing the musicians’ instruments up there on stage. The sight, no doubt, stirs a pleasant ripple of anticipation: this is why we’re here, let’s get the music started.
For me, there is one exception to that scenario, one instrument that when I spy it on a stage immediately heightens my sense of pleasurable anticipation. I speak, of course, of the Hammond B3 organ.
I don’t know what it is about the Hammond that works for me. There must be something primal in its deep growl and laughing lines, something buoyant to the soul in the way it punctuates and illustrates a harmony. Surely, much of the pleasure lies in pure association: it’s an instrument rooted in the life-affirming sounds and soul of jazz, blues and gospel. It’s also just great to look at, that marvelous, massive wooden structure with its internally twirling companion. I just dig it.
Jazz organ trios are nowhere near as prevalent today as in past generations but that absence has made my heart grow fonder for the James Carter Organ Trio, which Friday opens a three-night run at Yoshi’s in Oakland. The gig comes just days before the ensemble – Carter (saxophone), Leonard Clyde King Jr. (drums) and Gerard Gibbs (Hammond B3) – releases “At the Crossroads.”
The album is simply a stone gas, an ever-entertaining exploration of where jazz, blues and gospel meet. It is a fittingly diverse collection, the material ranging from the opening blues romp “Oh Gee” to the Duke Ellington ballad “Come Sunday” with King’s vocals. “At the Crossroads” grinds and wails, digs deep into blues and gospel, uplifts and entertains. Much of its power resides in the teamwork among the three musicians, in particular the muscular interplay between Carter’s sax and Gibbs’ organ. Great, rousing stuff.
Here’s what Carter had to say about the project and growing up in the music-rich environment that was and remains Detroit.
Question: I have long been entranced by the Hammond B3’s inherent soulfulness and capacity for grit. As a sax player what, specifically, is the attraction of working in the organ trio format?
Carter: The organ trio format has been (and continues to be) a constant source of soul for me. I heard these ensembles in my youth on the radio at cookouts and family get-togethers and always felt an ancestral link to them. My keeper of the “keys,” Gerard Gibbs, brings a fresh outlook on the possibilities of this instrument while retaining the utmost respect for its past and its forbearers.
Question: I am struck by the sheer breadth of material here; it ranges from blues to wailing jive to gospel. What criteria did you employ in choosing these tunes?
Carter: It is quite a wide palette to savor in this release. Our criteria were what made us all feel good in the studio and on stage as well. As such, these selections secured a spot in the final rinse.
Question: You were born and raised in Detroit. What was it like for you to come of age in that music scene? What influence did the Detroit jazz scene have on your sound, your eclecticism, your desire to try new things?
Carter: I came up in a very fertile artistic environment in my slice of the “D” – all my siblings and some cousins musically inclined to varying degrees, two great supportive teachers in Mr. Donald E. Washington and Mrs. Valerie Turner Way. These two were responsible in stimulating my artistic appetite by their invaluable lessons and their personal zest for music. But it was Mr. Washington’s group BIRD-TRANE-SCO-NOW that brought out the desire to fly and try new things with my peers.
The Detroit jazz scene I felt when growing up was a small microcosm of what the world had to offer and the elders were (and are) quite accessible to us. They continue to be a very fertile source for everyone within the sound of their art.
Want to keep up with the best in Bay Area jazz?
Subscribe to us: Have our jazz Examiner columns sent to your inbox. Click SUBSCRIBE TO EMAIL on the button on this page. It’s free. (And we won’t spam you or give out your information.)
Bookmark us: knotmove.com/x-12458-Oakland-Jazz-Music-Examiner
Make us your home page,add us as a Favorite Examiner (see above),take us mobile at knotmove.com/mobile.html