The Hammond B3 organ has followed a strange path through musical history. A relative of the pipe organ, the electro-mechanical Hammond organ was invented in 1935 by Laurens Hammond to immediate curiosity. Utilized in classical, jazz, pop, gospel and R&B, the mobile and light Hammond made its most influential early mark in cultural settings like churches, funeral parlors, ice/roller skating rinks and theaters. Early jazz organ stars included Fats Waller, Bill Davis and Larry Young. During the 1960s, “The Incredible” Jimmy Smith transformed the Hammond organ from a supporting to a lead instrument by creating a unique style and mastering lengthy, soulful improvisational lines. Smith’s contribution opened the floodgates and spurred a whole generation of new players, particularly in soul jazz circles, including Booker T. Jones, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Reuben Wilson. By the 1980s, though, the Hammond fell out of favor and could only be heard here and there on records from the older masters and in jammy rock bands like the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead, or as a nostalgia piece. But reports of the Hammond’s demise were greatly exaggerated, a fact borne out by the emergence of a new crop of talented Hammond players in the early 1990s, as well as the DJ-friendly reissue of numerous soul jazz classics on vinyl and CD. High Street Records’s Organ-ized, a thoroughly enjoyable “all-star tribute to the Hammond B3 organ,” enlists a variety of these current and older players to salute Laurens Hammond’s invention and spread its musical joys to a new audience.
Organ-ized is not a trip down memory lane, nor is it a comprehensive overview of the full flowering of Hammond styles over the years. For the most part, this album is straight ahead soul jazz, packed with high energy, funky grooves end-to-end. In this vein, Joey DeFrancesco’s thunderous version of “Ashley Blue,” Art Neville’s New Orleans-inflected “Micky Fink,” Galactic’s kinetically rhythmic “My Little Humidor,” and Mick Weaver’s slow-groove R&B number, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” stand out, stand up and dance for joy. While all of this joyous noise keeps the party pumping, John Medeski’s brave, space-age duel with turntablist DJ Logic on “Swamp Road” is the single best track on the sampler. It expands the possibilities of the instrument in a much more current sonic setting and thereby points the way toward a 21st century sound. Sadly, though, the older players, including Jimmy Smith, Reuben Wilson and Jack McDuff contribute the least impressive tracks to this set. Nevertheless, whether you have already fallen in love with the Hammond or are simply looking for an easy introduction to the instrument, Organ-ized is a nice pick-up.
// Notes from the Road
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