A shouted group vocal opens this fresh-sounding album of big-band swing from jazz organist Radam Schwartz, Abel Mireles‘s Jazz Exchange Orchestra, and drummer David F. Gibson (the Count Basie Orchestra). The male voices bring to mind the happy-go-lucky days of Glenn Miller and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”
Quickly, though, a distinctive sound asserts itself. Schwartz, who composed and arranged a number of the 10 tracks on Message from Groove and GW, covers throughout the album the territory usually handled by piano and bass.
Shining, celebratory, and brittle, the Hammond B3 organ gives the arrangements an extra dimension. The swirling riffs and melodies of John Coltrane’s “Blues Minor” take on a biting energy, with the organist’s icy comping riding under thoughtful solos from the band. The complex melodies of the Schwartz original “Dig You Like Crazy” and the surprising rhythms of Mireles’s “What to Do” also impress.
Schwartz demonstrates his feel for soul and R&B with a glowing jazzification of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” and a silky take on the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets,” a feature for guitarist Charlie Sigler. The straight-ahead jazzy blues of the title track explicitly references the element of the album that pays tribute to great jazz organists of the past, especially Jimmy Smith and Richard “Groove” Holmes, with Gibson’s creative drumming rocking hard underneath.
The liner notes claim that an organist has never before handled the bass lines for an entire swing album. I sure haven’t heard such a collection until now. Schwartz and Gibson lock in beautifully; the absence of plucked strings adds an unusual smoothness to the beat. The rhythm section is heavily featured in “A Path to Understanding,” an exceptional original by trombonist Peter Lin.
Schwartz’s swampy arrangement of Charles Mingus’s “Work Song” burns with woeful vigor, all 10-and-a-half minutes of it. A sweaty New Orleans energy powers tasty solos from trumpeter Ben Hankle, trombonist Andrae Murchison, and alto saxophonist Anthony Ware, capped by a rooftop-busting sojourn by Schwartz. Gibson’s drumming is again surprising and inspiring.
The album closes with a densely harmonized jazz take on J.S. Bach. This track is a sophisticated counterpoint to the raucous shout that kicked off the set in the brightly rocking “Trouble Just Won’t Go Away.” But Radam Schwartz didn’t have to prove the breadth of his musical knowledge and inspiration by going back to the 18th century. The exciting, pure big-band jazz on this disc is all that’s needed for that.
Message from Groove and GW is out now on Arabesque Records.