(Severn Records, CD)
Vermont is home to some high-quality jazz musicians, many of them living in and around Burlington. But plenty of hot players can be found outside the city lines, such as South Hero's B-3 organ maestro Ken Clark. His latest, Mutual Respect, is his second for Severn Records, a Maryland-based blues-and-jazz imprint. On it, he and his trio deliver 12 absolutely smoldering tracks of funky organ jazz.
In addition to Clark, the group features Mike Mele on guitar and Steve Chaggaris on drums. These former Berkelee students have been developing their "swing and funk" sound since 1992. While their music is reminiscent of traditional B-3 authorities such as Big John Patton and Jimmy McGriff, they infuse their tunes with
modern Medeski, Martin and Wood-style micro-grooves.
Opener "K-Mart Special" slinks in with a Steely Dan-gone-organ-grinder chic. The track boasts some tasty guitar by Mele, whose playing is very much in the tradition of six-string stalwarts Wes Montgomery and George Benson. Mele follows this winning formula on several other tracks including "For Now," "I Just Woke Up" and the title track.
Clark's compelling bass pedal footwork sits right in the pocket, occasionally spinning out into a whirlwind of pure organ funkiness. Tracks such as "For Now" and "Influence" kept me bopping my head and riding each groove.
In addition to these displays of energetic funkosity, Clark and company are also competent balladeers, as they prove on the mystically atmospheric "Kate" and the equally hypnotic "Nocturne." This dynamic
gear-shifting displays the band's keen versatility.
The organ-trio format has enjoyed a resurgence over the last few years, with artists such as Tony Monaco and Joey DeFrancesco charging forward while still honoring the past. The Ken Clark Trio keeps this momentum going; their tight package of original funk, groove and soul stands up well alongside the work of organ titans past and present. You can hear them live at Snow Farm Vineyards in South Hero on Thursday, August 11.