Anthony E. Nelson Jr.
The mountainous cover art belies the urban, small jazz club nature of this organ trio recording, Swinging Sunset, by tenor saxophonist Anthony E. Nelson, Jr. Yes, here is yet another organ trio, sometimes consisting of guitar, organ, and drums to which often a saxophone was added. This makes it even simpler without the guitar. Nelson Jr.’s goal here is to pay tribute to the classic format which came of age in ‘50s and ‘60s wan which he witnessed first-hand at clubs in New Jersey and Harlem through the likes of Jimmy McGriff. Those performances instilled and inspired Nelson’s love of this format. Of course, the organ is central to the Black church and early innovators Fats Waller and Charles Keynard were instrumental in bringing the instrument into a secular jazz context which blossomed in the ‘50s
This is Nelson’s fifth CD as a leader and he’s joined by trio mates – drummer Cecil Brooks III (Marvin Peterson, Andrew Hill, Arthur Blythe, Russell Gunn, Etta Jones, Jimmy Ponder) and B3 master Kyle Koehler (Craig Handy, Don Braden, Conrad Herwig, Vince Ector, Jerry Weldon). Those names should tell you that these are indeed veteran players with seasoned chops. The album came about rather serendipitously as Brooks, who mentored Nelson when he was in high school, returned to the NYC area from his home base on the West Coast and wanted to reunite with Nelson. It was a quick session and what you’ll hear are mostly first takes. Nelson has a great quote – “This is an album I needed to do even though I didn’t know I needed to do it.” As such, he pays tribute to his church upbringing, the authentic organ trio sound, and tenor titans such as Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, Houston Person, and others. There are so many —George Coleman, Ike Quebec, and even Johnny Griffin played in this format.
The opener “Canadian Sunset” (perhaps the inspiration for the cover art) stems from Ammons 1960 album, Boss Tenor. The trio locked into the mid-tempo piece, swinging naturally to the point where they almost forgot they were recording, thereby turning the outro into the brief standalone “One More Once.” Neil Hefti’s “Girl Talk” has long been an organ trio staple dating back to Shirley Scott. This is clearly a first take with Nelson nodding to Ralph Moore’s version. “Uno Mas Por Roberto” is one of two Nelson originals and carries a soul/bossa vibe.
The boil drops to an ever so sultry simmer on “These Foolish Things,” where Nelson’s unhurried, soulful low register sound evokes one of his favorites, Johnny Griffin, who recorded the tune on his 1956 Introducing Johnny Griffin. Organist Koehler delivers his own simpatico emotive solo. The trio also digs into one of Griffin’s originals, “Mildew,” revealing the burning up tempo side of the tenor great. Naturally there’s a nod to Stanley Turrentine as they call up “Minor Chant” which the legend recorded with the legendary Jimmy Smith on Back to the Chicken Shack. Two other tenor giants get their due – Sonny Rollins in “Three Little Words” and likely a cast of several on Tadd Dameron’s “On a Misty Night,” a tune that Nelson heard so often at Newark’s Peppermint Lounge, he always played it by ear, never needed the sheet music.
The program deviates from the tenorists though in a couple of places as Nelson shines lyrically on Marvin Gaye’s “Why Did I Choose You,” another smoldering gem that conjures the kind of playing we associate with living legend Houston Person, even though there’s no particular tenor player referenced in the notes. Later he sets us right down a pew for his soulful and spiritual take on the gospel standard “Walk with Me,’ building it to a crescendo that may well have us standing by the end. This is DEEP. Nelson closes with his “Last Call (for Gryce), written in honor of saxophonist Tommy Gryce, it’s another blues and often Nelson’s closing set number in live performance.
This album just oozes with emotive playing as Nelson steers clear on overblowing or grandstanding rapid runs, in deference to his forbears and the authenticity of the classic organ trio. Long live its timeless sound.
- Jim Hynes
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