Saturday, 22 December 2012

Funky Organ Transplant

Need to pick yourself up off the floor?  Skip the B12 shot and go for the B3 organ.
This funk-fuelled keyboard was originally developed by The Hammond Organ Company in 1934 for cash-strapped church congregations, but quickly became a staple instrument for jazzmen, especially those in small combos with electric guitars.

The mid-twentieth century saw its share of excellent jazz organists, notably Dr. Lonnie Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Freddie Roach, Jimmy Smith, Neal Creque, and Big John Patton, but the universe would seemingly like me to honour the memory of Johnny "Hammond" (Smith).  At least that's how I'm choosing to interpret why I found three of his records the other week.

Johnny Hammond cut several respectable hard bop and funky jazz albums with New Jazz and its parent label Prestige, as well as with Riverside.  He even covered Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." (Hi last Wednesday's post!)  His best-known records, however, were pressed on Kudu, Creed Taylor's soul-jazz sub-label of CTI Records.  The in-house producers, hit-maker Bob James and JB sax alumnus Pee Wee Ellis, directed the now-classic albums Breakout, Wild Horses Rock Steady, The Prophet and Higher Ground.  Accompanists Joe Henderson, Billy Cobham, Grover Washington Jr, Ron Carter, George Benson, Melvin Sparks and Pepper Adams, as well as the preeminent sound engineer, Rudy Van Gelder, solidified these venerable disks.
And just when it appeared as though Hammond had reached the apex, the summit, the highest of peaks, he met The Mizell Brothers and altogether left the mountain for the stratosphere.
Much like King Midas, everything that Larry and Fonce Mizell touched turned to gold.  This fraternal duo is responsible for arranging, producing, playing on and singing on Bobbi Humphrey's Black and Blue and Fancy Dancer, L.T.D.'s Love to the World, Blackbyrd's The City Life, Gary Bartz's Music is My Sanctuary, The Rance Allen Group’s Say My Friend, and much of Donald Byrd's unparalleled 70s catalogue: Street Lady, Black ByrdStepping in TomorrowPlaces and Spaces and Caricatures.  The Mizells graced two of Hammond’s records – Gambler's Life and Gears, the latter of which is a front-to-back banger.  There's a very good reason (or six reasons, rather) why you won't pay less than 50 bucks for an original press of this record.  I’ve included below all of the tracks from Gears because they each warrant your undivided attention.

While his next record, Forever Taurus, isn't a Mizell production, it proffers similarly ethereal synthesizer melodies but drives a little harder in the rhythm section.   On “Ghetto Samba,” Hammond lays out some solos that rival anything played by Herbie Hancock during his Head Hunters era.
Whereas the sweeping string fills and disco drums are handled deftly on Forever Taurus, they undo Storm Warning.  And if it’s not the cheesy dance numbers, it’s the pallid quiet storm cuts.  On his final album Don’t Let the System Get You, Hammond’s genius has been lobotomized to ensure maximum commercial appeal.  If anyone else had released these last two record, I would deem them good attempts.  But when compared to Hammond’s earlier heights, they're a fall from grace.


“Easy Like,” All Soul, New Jazz, 1959

Discogs: All Soul

“Brother John,” The Stinger, Prestige, 1965

Discogs: The Stinger

“Breakout,” Breakout, Kudu, 1971

Discogs: Breakout

“Who Is Silvia?” Wild Horses Rock Steady, Kudu, 1972

“Witchy Woman,” The Prophet, Kudu, 1972

Discogs: The Prophet

“Big Sur Suite,” Higher Ground, Kudu, 1974

Discogs: Higher Ground

“Gambler’s Life,” Gambler’s Life, Salvatino Records, 1974

Discogs: Gambler’s Life

The following six tracks compose the album Gears, Milestone, 1975

“Tell Me What To Do”

“Los Conquistadors Chocolates” 

“Lost on 23rd Street”


“Shifting Gears”

“Can’t We Smile” 

“Ghetto Samba,” Forever Taurus, Milestone, 1976

Discogs: Forever Taurus

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