Product Reviews

Respect Yourself:Stax Records and the Soul Explosion

If you're a fan of American Soul Music, you'll be interested in checking out this book by Robert Gordon. The obvious value for you as an organist are the sections discussing the incredible talents of Booker T. Jones, but the book is so much more. Stax was notable for providing a local and regional voice to a generation embroiled in the civil rights controversies of the 1960s. You'll find excursions into things like the Memphis garbage strikes, racial tensions in the music industry, shady business dealings--this book covers a wide swath of American culture and music business. The work is painstakingly researched, with plenty of first-hand accounts and interviews.

Although gone, Otis Redding and his legacy still sparkle in the covers of this book, and the impact of his loss on the Black community is sensitively expressed. You'll learn about how the Stax business was bootstrapped from a tiny garage-based organization to becoming an international media machine. You'll find vivid descriptions of the "golden years," and gain a new appreciation for legendary figures like Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MGs, Rufus & Carla Thomas--and more.

There's too much in here for one review--I'd highly recommend it; it's easy to read, comprehensive, and fills a gap in the conversation about modern popular music.

Melvin Crispell & Testimony: He's Able

Melvin Crispell on cdbaby
Melvin Crispell & Testimony on MySpace
2009, IMOK Gospel Music -- Label Website

Melvin Crispell has long been a major player in the American Gospel music scene, mostly as a sideman for well-known leaders like Hezekiah Walker. I believe this is his first solo effort, and I must warn you: this is some fantastic music and organ playing!

I bought the mp3s, which is unfortunate because I don't have all of the artist information I'd like to have. I'll skip straight to the music.

First off, there isn't a bad track on the album. The production values are very high, but there's also a live feeling, an 'urgent' vibe that tells you these people aren't just slogging through some endless studio death march, but are in fact fresh, excited, and powerful young people who believe very strongly in their message and their music. They 'sell' these songs at a very deep level. Many of these tracks feel like well-excecuted first or second takes, which really contributes to the excitement.

Since the organ isn't necessarily the featured instrument (it's a choral group backed by a ridiculously tight band), it's difficult to separate the sound of the powerful, muscular ensemble from the organ comping (and occassional solo breaks). And maybe that's the way it should be.

This album will peel the paint off your walls, guaranteed. Well done, people.

Track Listing

  1. Real
  2. Never Shall Forget
  3. For Me
  4. Escape
  5. Nobody Like Him
  6. He Never Failed Me
  7. Caught Up
  8. Help Me to Follow
  9. Let the Redeemed
  10. Jesus Is My Help
  11. He's Able
  12. He's Able (Reprise)

Classic Hammond Organ: Know the Players, Play the Music

2008, Backbeat/Hal Leonard Available at Amazon
Check the author's website at

It's surprising that I haven't run into this book before--it's been out a few years, but I'm only now getting to it. If you don't have time to read a lengthy review, I'll get this out of the way: buy it. The main reason for such an endorsement isn't necessarily that the book is completely awe-inspiring, but rather that in a world where so few Hammond Organ texts exist, you should probably own them all. Now, on to the book itself.

The form factor of the book is a bit unusual, it uses a spiral-bound "cookbook" binding that contains its 160 pages between its hefty covers. This helps the volume stay open on a music stand, which is nice, but also makes it a little cumbersome at times to leaf through casually. Some may love it, some may hate it. CD included, with 39 examples!

The book's scope is probably overly broad, as it attempts to provide a survey of the artists and techniques that define the genre of pop/jazz/R&B Hammond playing for the last 50+ years. Oh, and it also includes musical examples with a CD! Is there a kitchen sink in there too? It's ok, though--it's a delight to leaf through, as there are plenty of pictures and commentary on the colorful figures that have helped shape Hammond-dom. The material is footnoted, and the sources include Keyboard Player magazine, personal interviews with the author, and the famed "Beauty and the B" book (which is itself, sort of a Keyboard Player compilation). There are some quotes and stories in here that I haven't run across before, so good on Mr. Lodder (himself a keyboard/music heavyweight) for digging up some of these goodies.

One thing I really liked was that he actually listened to the music under discussion and made guesses as to the organ sittings used on particular recordings. That, my friends, is dedication, and provides some useful insight into the attention to detail needed to really understand the instrument. See below, from the discussion of Billy Preston's work with the Beatles:

"Preston had met The Beatles in 1962 while on tour with Little Richard. In 1969, George Harrison had walked out of the fractious 'Let it Be' sessions and gone to a Ray Charles gig in London. There he...invited him [Preston] back to the studio...on 'Let it Be' he [Preston] gets a crack at the organ...laying down a pad for much of the latter part of the track, but with an organ 'moment before the guitar solo. (An approximation would be 88004440, no percussion, no vibrato, fast Leslie)."

So the history lessons are punctuated with specific information about the instruments used and their techniques--fantastic! Even better, the musical examples in the second half are coordinated with the text, so after you read about a particular player's technique, you can actually flip to the corresponding musical example and study/play it. Of course the examples are on the CD too, so that's a great touch.

Some have complained that the book is too broad, and that it doesn't know if it wants to be a history book or an instruction book. The same complaint can be levied against the "Beauty and the B" tome. This is probably not a fault of the author, but rather a publisher's response to a market that's so tiny (the Hammond tradition is largely carried on aurally, not textually) it's necessary to incorporate a broad range of material.

This is an initial impression (I may revise this in a few weeks after I've let the book sink in a bit) but I like the writing style and the content better than "Beauty and the B." It comes off as being less forced--less "cute" perhaps?--and more restrained and easygoing. I'd give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, and encourage Steve Lodder to contact me so we can collaborate on a graded modern Hammond Organ method.

Jon Dalton Trio: Warm Ghosts (in a) Cool World

2009 Dit Da Communications/Innervision Records

  1. Groove Merchant (Jerome Richardson)
  2. Mocha Trouble (Jon Dalton)
  3. So What! (Miles Davis)
  4. T4JOEY (John-Paul Gard)
  5. Earthmover (Jon Dalton)
  6. But Beautiful (J. Burke/J. Van Heusen)
  7. The More I See You (Harry Warren)
  8. Chiseler's Blues (Jon Dalton)
  9. The Eclipse (Jon Dalton)
  10. Plastered (Jon Dalton)
  11. Loverman (Davis, Ramierez, Sherman)

Play time: 65 minutes
Available at: cdbaby

This album has been in my playlist for almost two months now, and I'm really enjoying it! The programming includes a mix of old and new: half the album is original material, which is a huge plus in my book. The standards are well done; the irresistable read of "Groove Merchant" and the uptempo "So what!" are superb. There's enough familiar material here to create broad appeal, but also a welcome variety of accessible originals that make it a strong offering. I'll discuss a couple of the originals here and give the verdict below.

One of the standout tracks is Gard's T4JOEY, a waltz that features some of the best organ playing on the album. Both Dalton and Gard flex their muscles through several challenging--but always groovin'--solos in a challenging minor blues. The organ really smokes on this one, and you'll want to pay attention to the organ comping on this number. There's also a nice long coda featuring some exciting "organistic fireworks" and techniques as well. The drumming is tasty and propulsive, and the whole ensemble seems really "on" here. I'd buy the album for this track alone.

Another original, "The Eclipse" (Dalton), is a somewhat understated ballad with some fresh moments--there's a smooth leslie speed change at the beginning that really sets the mood. For the first 6 minutes we get a nice, laid-back groove with a good sense of space. We're treated to some long, sparking solos, and Dalton really lays down some sparking, sensitive lines. It gets busy after six minutes with a two-minute organ solo over a two-chord progression. At first, I thought the solo was a bit overplayed and maybe out of touch with the rest of the tune, but after a couple of listens, I can see where he was going with it; although I'd have liked a final return to the airy, space-age intro material. In the balance, it's another great track and one that bears repeated listening well.

This CD is also unique because there's a definite "live" feel to the production. I hear it partially in the dynamic range, which conveys a great sense of excitement and immediacy that usually works in its favor. There are some drawbacks, though, places where the guitar can disappear into the mix a little (depending on your listening envronment, e.g. in "Earthmover" and a few places elsewhere). Your mileage may vary, of course.

Overall, I'd call this a definite "must buy" for anyone interested jazz and jazz organ playing. We have here a solid example of the style, and while it would stand as a worthy homage to the best legends of organ jazz, it breathes a lot of life into the genre here that makes it worth owning. The playing is strong and convincing throughout; these guys can really deliver. Great job fellows, this one is going to stay in my listening rotation for quite some time. I'm sure you'll enjoy it as well.