Jazz CD Reviews

Mike LeDonne – The Groover – Savant

“Old school” in a good way.

Published on March 3, 2010

Mike LeDonne – The Groover – Savant

Mike LeDonne – The Groover – Savant SCD 2100, 61:56 ****½:

(Mike LeDonne: Hammond B-3; Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Joe Farnsworth, drums)

For many folks, the term “old school” has a negative connotation. It signifies something stodgy, with no imagination, or creativity. However, to this lover of Hammond B-3 organ, old school is a compliment. It brings back memories of early 60s Blue Note and Prestige Records recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey. Many of the best Hammond B-3 albums included a tenor sax and electric guitar. Those were my favorites as the soulful tenor playing of Stanley Turrentine and Houston Person set off the groovy beat that the Hammond was laying down. Bringing a star guitarist such as Grant Green or Pat Martino into the mix sealed the deal. A drummer who could lay down a good backbeat and keep time with the Hammond was a prerequisite.

Well, Mike LeDonne’s latest Savant offering, The Groover, just out this month, passes all these tests with flying colors. You’ve got the ace in Eric Alexander, who served time with Charles Earland’s band and learned from a master. Peter Bernstein is arguably the top guitar player for a Hammond session as evidenced by his appearance on many sessions from Mr. Hammond, Dr. Lonnie Smith. Joe Farnsworth is among the top first call drummers in New York, and is the drummer for One for All, the top hard bop long-term band in the business today.  As you can see, you’ve got the top young talent for a B-3 session. When I saw this disc, I knew I had to jump at the chance to check out Mike’s CD. Noted as much for his piano output, Mike has lately returned to the Hammond organ, and for us B-3 fanatics, this is only good news.

It has been a recent development that more and more Hammond B-3 CDs are being produced. Pete Fallico’s series of B-3 issues is partly responsible, but it is just as much the fact that the Hammond has never really gone out of style and a new generation is discovering its inherent coolness for the groove it sets and the good feelings it elicits. [And newer Hammond models have been well-received too…Ed.]

The Groover does not disappoint. Right off, on the first track, Rock With You, your head is nodding and feet are tapping. Alexander and LeDonne have the simpatico that playing so often at New York’s Smoke night club bring. Alexander’s chops are impeccable and Mike provides the Hammond skill to set off Eric’s excursions. Peter Bernstein hits all the right notes, and Farnsworth beat is steady enough to set a fine watch. Check the recording date – no, it’s not 1963. We’re in the second decade of the new century and LeDonne and Company have taken us back over four decades. No need to track down your old Blue Notes and compare the McMaster edition to the RVG or Connoisseur. We’ve got a clean, well-recorded old school edition. Right on!

Other winners in short order are Blues for McCoy (must be Tyner), where Mike digs in and does not let go. Little Mary has a relaxed groove that is infectious. The Kenny Gamble classic, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, brings back sweet soul memories.

LeDonne penned Deep Blue, Bopsolete, and the title track. All pass the B-3 groove test. Old School is back in session. Your teacher, Mike LeDonne is at the head of the class. Show some respect for The Groover….

Rock with You, Blues for McCoy, Little Mary, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, Deep Blue, Sunday in New York, Bopsolete, The Groover, On the Street Where You Live

– Jeff Krow

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