(Charlie Dennard – Hammond organ, arranger, producer, Fender Rhodes (track 7); Todd Duke – electric guitar; Doug Belote – drums (tracks 1, 2, 4-8); Geoff Clapp – drums (tracks 3, 9-10))
Soulful jazz never goes out of style. Just ask New Orleans-based Hammond organist Charlie Dennard. He’s been a part of the Crescent City music scene since the late ‘90s. On his latest, hour-long effort, 5 O’Clock Charlie—more about Charlie, later in this review—Dennard resurrects his guitar/organ/drums trio. 5 O’Clock Charlie follows in the footsteps of Dennard’s prior release, Brazil to New Orleans (2013), which focused on Brazilian music with plenty of guest musicians to fill up the sound. Here, Dennard strips everything down to the basics, and the result is a sharply-delineated excursion through R’nB, roots-inclined jazz material with hints to soul giants (James Brown), previous Hammond players (Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Don Patterson) and much more. If anyone wants to experience Dennard’s new jazz material, you can stream the whole recording online. Better yet, listen while you read this review. If you don’t have the time, there’s also a 4:30 audio sampler.
Dennard supplies a funky bottom end and groove, while guitarist Todd Duke offers blues riffs and tasty solos and Geoff Clapp and Doug Belote add textured and driving drums (Clapp is heard on three tracks; while Belote, who was also on Brazil to New Orleans, is behind the drum kit on the other six cuts). The threesome come smoking out of the gate with a tribute to guitarist Grant Green, Dennard’s six-minute swinger “Grant’s Pants,” which is a backbeat-powered, vamp-energized, funk-feast. While Duke contributes some aptly Green-esque licks, Dennard slips in some Smith-like organ stylings. There’s more guitar than organ, which is a problem elsewhere, but it’s hard to argue with such a strutting, soulful impact. Dennard evokes Larry Young on his “Booby Trap,” a modal number which has an edgy, slightly tense structure due to ascending patterns and a looser sway. Dennard and Duke trade 16-bar solos which creates an interesting exchange. Dennard’s “Let’s Go” has an urban and urbane feel, more of a Big Apple aspect than a Southern stance: no beer here, but you can imagine someone sipping a Manhattan while nodding to this one. The title track, “5 O’Clock Blues,” has a gospel-ish characteristic, with a walking bass line, bluesy guitar, and Belote’s firmly in-the-pocket percussion. The tune’s name is inspired by an episode of the television series, M*A*S*H, called “5 O’Clock Charlie,” about a punctual but inexpert North Korean bomber pilot. Dennard, Duke and Clapp honor the comedic TV show in another way with the CD’s concluding selection, a somewhat surprisingly funky treatment of “Suicide Is Painless,” Johnny Mandel’s famous main theme used in both the movie and subsequent television program. The trio utilizes a bouncing jauntiness with a walking bass line in 4/4 time. 5 O’Clock Charlie was also the designation for one of Dennard’s earlier bands. See how it is all connected?
There are two other covers which are memorable. One of Dennard’s inspirations is Larry Goldings, and Clapp, Duke and Dennard provide a Southern-saturated swagger on Golding’s “Back in the Day,” which Golding’s did on his 2001 outing, As One. “Back in the Day” features robust guitar, punchy organ and Duke’s second-line, slanted rhythm. Guitarist Peter Bernstein performs on As One, and Goldings helped on Bernstein’s 1998 record, Earth Tones: which may explain why Dennard adapts Bernstein’s “Carrot Cake,” which is on Earth Tones. Dennard doesn’t change the arrangement much. Dennard’s Hammond tone is deeper than Golding’s, and Duke’s guitar timbre is more open than Bernstein’s. But the exultant, R’nB verve comes across precise and clear. The top organ jazz trios understand versatility, as well as tradition, is what makes this kind of soul-jazz work well. Dennard, Duke, Belote and Clapp perfectly balance straightforward organ jazz with modern touches, an adventurous spirit with a back-to-basics approach. Don’t be late, 5 O’Clock Charlie is worth waiting for.
TrackList: Grant’s Pants; Booby Trap; Back in the Day; Let’s Go; 5 O’Clock Blues; French Lick; Hunch; Blues by Five; Carrot Cake; Suicide Is Painless (M.A.S.H. Theme).