An organ trio fronted by an avant-garde alto saxophonist like John Zorn isn't usually a combination associated with groove oriented soul-jazz. Luckily, on Minor Swing, organist Big John Patton and John Zorn encourage taking chances and opening the music up, while not going so far out as to overwhelm the intended fundamental groove. Zorn sounds comfortable and content, always maintaining his individuality, taking a cue from tenor saxophonist Harold Alexander who played in a similar "out" style on Patton's 1968 session for Blue Note, Boogaloo. Patton's second comeback date of the '90s features Zorn with Ed Cherry (guitar) and Kenny Wollesen (drums) on six originals and Larry Young's "Tyrone." Patton and Zorn embrace Young's influence by employing elements of harder edged post bop that a large portion of groove-soul organ players tend to avoid. Although these sessions may be harder to obtain than his Blue Note dates, the '90s DIW.
- Al Campbell (All Music Guide)
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The electric organ has created more controversy than any instruments employed in a jazz context. Prior to the emergence of the innovative Jimmy Smith in the mid 1950s, there had been a few jazz organists. Fats Waller. Count Basie, Wild Bill Davis, but not enough to cause much discussion. After Smith's enormous impact, however, organ players proliferated. Some - Smith. Jack McDuff. Groove Holmes. Jimmy McGriff - were at one time quite popular. While the jazz public, especially African-Americans, in whose neighborhood bars and clubs many performed, loved the funky organ style, it was anathema to many others, including a number of critics, who, among other things, couldn't bear the timbre of the instrument, which affected them like chalk squealing on a blackboard. As keyboard players experimented with electric pianos and synthesizers during the fusion era, the organ lost out, became passe to younger listeners. But in recent years the post-bop revival, in which highly praised, if reactionary, performers have participated, again has focused attention on the organ. After all, organ trios and organ-saxophone quartets were characteristic of post-bop in the 1950s and 60s, allied to the bluesy and gospel influenced music of Horace Silver.
Having had their ups and downs, I think it's time to consider individual organists on their merits. There have, after all, been good ones, along with those whose music was cliche-ridden. Among the best is John Patton. whose Blue Note recordings of the 1960s are highly sought after by collectors and a lot more musically daring than many jazz fans realize. Dee Quebec worked with Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff on the production of some of these dates, and. according to Patton, when either or both of them would try to restrain him from taking risks. Quebec would forcefully back the organist's going as far out as he wanted to. Here, together with altoist John Zorn, he participates in one of the best, if unlikeliest, organ-sax groups you're going to hear.
A deceptive musician. Patton plays and composes earthy music, but does not rely on a vocabulary of cliches. You hear his organ sound and think you know what's coming, but you don't ; his work may be economical at times, but it's sophisticated. Within the parameters of his down home style, he invents, and creates. Listen to his spots superficially and you think they're like those of other post-Smith players, but check them out more closely and you'll hear that they're more coherently structured and lyrical, melodically richer than almost all of them. Yes. he plays from the heart, but uses his head as well.
Whether they are. strictly speaking, blues or not. the selections here have a bluesy quality. Yet they're varied in tempo and mood. Larry Young's Tyrone is a pretty waltz. The Rock, a down and dirty piece with a boogaloo beat. Minor Swing and Lite Hit both taken at brisk clips, are spare, attractive works reminiscent of some of the pieces Miles Davis employed during his modal period. B Men Tnel a rhythmically ingenious and unpredictable composition, is in 4/4, but implies other meters. The Way I Feel might be thought of as two thirds of a blues ; it has an eight bar structure and is based on two chords.
Hip listeners should be knocked out by the quality of the solo work here. Patton's improvisation illustrates the subtlety alluded to above. You hear something familiar in his work and think you can predict where it's going, but it turns out you're not always right. He doesn't resolve ideas conventionally. Though his playing doesn't seem calculated, he makes every note count, even on the quicker tempo tunes.
The playing of Zorn will come as a pleasant surprise to many, who think of him as a composer. He didn't practice eight hours a day. not including time spent eating or bathroom breaks, over ten years, for nothing. He's a great altoist with a huge vocabulary containing post-bop (Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Cannonball Adderley ) and more recent (Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman ) elements and influences. He combines a rich imagination with superb technique and range to produce blistering lines, screams and quacks, but also shows on some tracks that he can improvise melodically. His work on The Way I Feel illustrates his great enthusiasm for Patton's music. He tears himself apart on this track.
You'll have to go a long way before finding a guitarist better equipped to fit into this group than the versatile Ed Cherry, who's worked with Henry Threadgill and Dizzy Gillespie as well as in organ combos. He's a thoughtful, lucid soloist and has great rapport with Patton - they're very good at complimenting each other and avoid duplication and redundant devices and effects. The work of Kenny Wollesen should be listened to carefully. A sometime member of Zorn's Masada group, he plays unobtrusively but propulsively. exhibiting sensitivity and fine musicianship.
Add it all up and this CD stands as one of the most unusual - arid excellent - recordings of its type ever made.
- Harvey Pekar