The Hammond Organ. Ask anyone who has played one on the club scene and they ’ll
tell you horror stories about jacking the B3 up fire escapes or removing doorframes;
not to mention the instrument’s sheer weight, alone. No question, the Hammond
is a super heavy organ.
Then there’s what’s under the hood. There are two layers of keys,
four sets of drawbars, and eighteen changeable presets, creating a sound that
arguably smokes any modern instrument. You need a virtuoso sitting behind the
Hammond or, somehow, it doesn’t erupt in those fat, bubbly tones, or in
those long glissandos that rip the paint off the wall.
“I just love the instrument,” Robert Walter enthuses. He knows the
mantle he wears when he plays the Hammond and the Leslie. He knows the lineage,
which, in no particular order, includes Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy
McGriff, and newcomers like Joey DeFrancesco. Walter wasn’t born behind
an organ; in fact, he began gigging with a piano and a Fender Rhodes. The story
goes that he wanted something more powerful, wider in bandwidth—something…heavier.
Robert Walter’s Super Heavy Organ
Robert Walter is the definitive soul-jazz organist of his generation. His latest
project, Super Heavy Organ, was recorded in his new hometown of New Orleans.
One cannot help but wonder why he waited until recently to relocate from his
native West Coast to the Crescent City, with its musical history rich in both
classic jazz and dirty loose limbed funk. “I had been performing in New
Orleans for years. As a kid I was obsessed with the music coming out of this
city. I made a decision to come here and experience it first hand. It’s
the best move I have ever made. I have been lucky enough to record an album
with some of my favorite musicians, people who have influenced me,” remarks
Walter. The new release is a collaboration with some of the city’s most
respected musicians, including drummers Stanton Moore and Johnny Vidacovich,
bassist James Singleton, tenor saxophonist Tim Green and guest vocalist Anthony
Farrell. They recorded live in the studio with a decidedly rough edged sound
to capture the raw spontaneity of the performances. The interactions between
the young leader and his veteran band mates are mutually inspired. “My
concept was not to imitate New Orleans music of the past, but to infuse the
tradition with my own ideas,” he describes. The resulting music is both
exploratory and modern while maintaining its ties to the heritage of jazz. It
is unquestionably innovative and funky at the same time.
Robert Walter has earned international acclaim for his work with the Greyboy
All-Stars, who are credited with resurrecting the classic soul-jazz sound for
a modern audience, and for pioneering his own group, the 20th Congress. Walter’s
bold attack of his Hammond B-3 and inventive compositions give his Super Heavy
Organ band its edge and place it at the forefront of the modern jazz scene.
His playing is by turns dissonant and audacious or subtle and soulful, favoring
surprising shifts of emotion over show stopping technique. He explains, “I
try to keep a sense of danger in my music.” His unique melodies are a celebrated
contribution to the evolution of jazz, soul and funk music.
Robert showcases his genius on the Super Heavy Organ album, specifically with
the track “Criminals Have a Name for It.” Indeed! Robert highlights
the bottom register of the acoustic piano, using the low keys to demark a sort
of Gulf Coast clave, juxtaposing thick organ tones overtop. The next track,
“34 Small” is a jazz waltz, against which Walter, pulls out all of
the stops, soloing with eighths, sixteenths, and thirty-second note clusters.
All the while, the pulse and the energy magnify.
Stanton Moore is the ideal drummer to accent a powerhouse ensemble of New Orleans
infused jazz and funk. Born and raised in Louisiana, Moore has undoubtedly been
influenced by the past and present jazz greats who have resided there. Moore
gained recognition as a founder of the funk/groove band, Galactic, with whom
he continues to tour. He released Flying the Koop in 2002; a highly charged,
improvisation-rich collaboration with Chris Wood, Karl Denson, Brian Seeger
and saxophonist Skerik. Moore tours with Robert Walter in the funk super group,
Frequinox, and was featured on Robert’s 2000 release Money Shot. No one
in the business can compete with the incredible energy that Moore provides on
stage, enabling him to pull magical rhythms from his drum kit. Stanton Moore
owns up about the first track on the Super Heavy Organ album, “I’ve
always enjoyed working with Robert. He’s a great player and a great writer.
I always look forward to learning whatever new tunes he brings to the table.
I learned ‘Adelita’ at the session and it’s become one of my
favorite tunes to play live.”
Johnny Vidacovich’s loose and syncopated drumming has inspired not only
his many students, most notably Stanton Moore and Brian Blade, but a whole generation
of young drummers. He has played with legendary New Orleans pianists Professor
Longhair and James Booker as well as such jazz greats as Eddie Harris, Nat Adderly
and Mose Alison. He continues to record and tour with Astral Project, one of
New Orleans’ longest running and most relevant modern jazz groups. He contributes
both slippery funk and understated beauty to the music. His elastic rhythms
are essential to the Super Heavy Organ band and its recording. The song “El
Cuervo,” which is in 7/4, is a forum for musical expansion. When it graduates
into a jazz vamp to underscore Tim Green’s solo, Johnny V. reveals himself
as the consummate bop drummer, alternately teasing us with chunks of funk.
Tim Green, master of the tenor saxophone, gives a distinct character to Robert
Walter’s Super Heavy Organ. His playing is harmonically adventurous and
deeply emotional. A New Orleans resident, Green has been active in the city’s
jazz scene for many years. He has played with such renowned musicians as Peter
Gabriel, Bruce Hornsby, the Indigo Girls, Medeski Martin and Wood, Phish and
George Porter. Green also served as the President of the Louisiana Jazz Federation,
which helps to promote jazz awareness throughout the state. Green’s saxophone
additions to Super Heavy Organ are riveting and unforgettable. The song, “Smells
like Dad’s Drunk Again” is harmonically and rhythmically one of the
more bizarre—and satisfying—tracks on Super Heavy Organ. Tim Green
is absolutely in his element negotiating the changes. He just builds and builds
against the gritty Hammond and the cushion of ride cymbal and toms.
Bassist, James Singleton, was beckoned to New Orleans at an early age. He was
quick to make a name for himself by playing with such blues and jazz greats
as Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, James Booker, John Mooney and the band
Astral Project. He continues to reside in New Orleans, offering his masterful
bass lines to various musical projects. His chemistry with longtime collaborator,
drummer Johnny Vidacovich is undeniable. On the track ‘Hardware,’
he transforms a simple funk vamp into something more ominous and primitive with
his raw approach and outrageous slides on the acoustic bass.
Anthony Farrell has made use of his vocal gift since he began performing on
the Venice Beach Promenade at the age of six. As the youngest member of the
Robert Colburn School of Performing Arts Jazz Workshop, Farrell was afforded
the opportunity to study under such Jazz luminaries as Harold Battiste, Nedra
Wheeler, and Wynton Marsalis. The expert training paid off. He has offered his
musical talent to the funk trio, Greyhounds, since 2000. The song “Spell”
is pure soul. This is universal. This could be Willie Mitchell in Memphis; this
could be the Nevilles in New Orleans. Farrell’s role is significant; his
quiet, wordless vocal refrain evokes a haunting mood.
Both the Super Heavy Organ album, and the band, are about listening,
reacting and stretching out. The sound is brilliant enough from the get go…and
then, somehow, it starts its build! When it finally comes down to a whisper,
and the Hammond is in the reeds, it works magic. And there’s dark magic
a plenty on this album.