116th & Park, the new album from guitarist Greg Skaff due for release September 11, is another set from his organ trio featuring Pat Bianchi on Hammond organ and Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums. Of the album’s 10 tracks, five are original Skaff compositions and one is by Peterson. They are funky tunes echoing the blues traditions that lend themselves to the guitar organ trio. Skaff’s guitar work with the trio has been compared to the likes of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, heady company for any jazz guitarist.
Listen to his work on 116th & Park and it is easy to see why. The title song, written for his adopted East Harlem home, swings from the opening organ solo to Skaff’s own work on the guitar. It has a funky theme that seems characteristic of his style. “Lapis” and “Serenade to a Surdo,” which ends the CD, have a Brazilian vibe which the album notes indicate moves out of the usual bill of fare for the organ trio. If so, Skaff and Bianchi make a good case for rethinking the menu. “Lapis,” especially, is one of the highlights of the album. “Invocation,” an up tempo romp, opens with a Peterson drum solo introducing Skaff with the theme followed by some bopping organ.
“Tropicalia,” which had been previously featured on his earlier East Harlem Skyline, was written, Skaff tells us, on a nylon string guitar. This marks the first time he has recorded on one. It gives the song, he adds, “the right flavor.” After recording the guitar tracks, he decided to add percussion and bass. The song is another example of the Brazilian influence. The Peterson tune, “The Jugular” is a chance for the trio to move and swing.
The album opens with Harold Mabern’s “Beehive,” another energetic mover which sets the bar high for what is to come. Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya,” a haunting melody played with sensitivity, is another of the album’s highlights, as is the Duke Ellington tune “Come Sunday.” It’s hard to miss with any tune written by Monk or Ellington, and the trio makes the most of them. Charles Williams’ “Dual Force,” not a bad choice either, completes the album.
116th & Park offers a nice blend of covers and originals played by a tight ensemble of musicians that know what they want to do and trust each other enough to do it. Greg Skaff, Pat Bianchi, and Ralph Peterson make a formidable combo. Together they are a talented creative force, a dynamic trio commanding attention.