Lonnie Gasperini,
Turn Up the Gas
(Key Click, 1999)

From the very start of this CD, I was expecting a great time. After all, the Hammond B-3 organ is unlike any other instrument in jazz -- it's a living, roaring beast. Even when it isn't being played, it sits there and hums, waiting for its power and potential to be unleashed by a Jimmy Smith, a Jimmy McGriff or, yes, a Lonnie Gasperini.

Gasperini has B-3 chops to spare, as may be heard on the first track, "Lonnie's Blues," a perfect example of classic organ blues. At first, the baritone sax of Art Hazard provides a nice foil to the B-3. Both instruments are barrel-chested and robust, and by the end of the cut, you're just damned happy that God and Hammond created the B-3 to play the blues. Lavern Sims provides the vocal on "Makin' Whoopie" (sic), and shows off a nice tone and some inventive melody lines, which seem, however, to stay within a fairly limited vocal range of an octave or so. When she tries to go beyond it, the results aren't all that successful. On "Sweet Georgia Brown," a later vocal, Sims occasionally flats when she tries to jump higher. But let's face it, even Billie Holiday didn't have much of a range. The song has a witty conversational ride-out at the end.

"Just Friends" follows, but by this third cut you may begin to tire of the bari sax sound. Hazard has a big Texas tenor tone, but his playing isn't all that inventive here, nor is it on "Little Suede Shoes," where it seems more like an unfocussed obbligato behind a lead voice that isn't there, fading away before you're even sure it's over. The organ finally comes in after this lackluster solo, and just as things are starting to happen, the track fades out, and we're into another tune, "Sissy Strut," with the sax again taking the lion's share, Hazard stating the melody very baldly. With a tune like this, which is basically improvisation over a single chord, you need soloists who are more than adept at composition on the run, and Hazard, at least in this case, just isn't up to the task.

Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning" follows, and when Gasperini finally comes in, things pick up considerably. By now it's starting to become obvious that the problem on this B-3 album is that there's just not enough B-3. "You've Changed," another vocal, is next, and although Sims does a nice job with it, the scoop that she uses each time around becomes repetitive. "Lullaby of Birdland" is less successful, with Sims once again trying to reach notes just beyond her range. Again, just as Gasperini starts cooking, the track fades out at a paltry 1:55.

A Gasperini original, "Organic Manic," builds nicely and showcases a nice guitar solo by Broc Dechristopher, but the other original, "This Must Be Love," sounds like too many other songs we've heard before. There's a swinging little track in "Scat Shuffle Blues," mistakenly left off the track listing, but again, there's just not enough organ. The final tune, "We'll Be Together Again," gives Hazard the opportunity to play soft and soulfully, but there's nothing sweet about his walking-the-bar tone. In the first line, he squeaks so badly at the start of a four-note descending line that one has to wonder why they couldn't start again to delete the clam. Squeaks happen to even the best players, but in a studio album it should have been corrected.

The strength in this CD is Lonnie Gasperini. He's a fine organist, creative, inventive and possessed of great technique, yet he lets his sidemen (and woman) take the spotlight, playing backup rhythm far more often than soloing. The fade-outs, most of which occur during organ solos, only add to the listener's frustration. You get the feeling that there was a lot more organ work at the end of the tracks, and we're being prevented from hearing it due to length concerns. When you have a B-3 album, dammit, you want to hear B-3, and I hope on Gasperini's next outing that he's less generous to his fellow players and more generous to those of us who love to hear a hot, swinging Hammond played the way he can.

[ by Chet Williamson ]