Jazz CD Reviews

Tom Dempsey, guitar – Saucy – Planet Arts

Saucy: dig it and dig in!

Published on October 7, 2013

Tom Dempsey, guitar – Saucy – Planet Arts

Tom Dempsey – Saucy – Planet Arts 301318, 62:00 [9/17/13] ***1/2:

(Tom Dempsey – guitar, producer; Ron Oswanski – Hammond B-3 organ; Alvin Atkinson – drums)

With an album title like Saucy, it’s a good guess the music will be soulful jazz. New York guitarist Tom Dempsey keeps the Hammond B-3 organ/guitar/drums trio format alive and well on his new hour-long outing, which swings with a mix of originals, a familiar pop hit, and a few choice covers. Dempsey lives in the terrain of groove and rhythm, and knows the landscape well: each of his ten tunes showcases traditional soul-jazz in an accustomed but never trite way.

Dempsey’s background was beneficial for what he’s doing now. He cites typical influences such as Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, as well as modern artists like John Abercrombie and John Scofield; he worked with Kenny Barron, Roy Haynes, Jack McDuff, and Dave Brubeck, in addition to leading his own groups. Organist Ron Oswanski’s credits include Maynard Ferguson, guitarist Jeff Barone and others. He also heads his own quartet, and has one release to his name. Drummer Alvin Atkinson’s résumé includes Ken Peplowski, the Barbara Carroll Trio, and more. Together the threesome effortlessly craft a solid set of spirited soul-jazz with a modicum of invention.

The group opens with the recognizable “One Hundred Ways,” done by David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco and the aforementioned McDuff. Dempsey’s version is faster-paced but otherwise retains the greasy façade which McDuff gave this piece on his 1988 comeback, The Re-Entry (recommended for organ jazz aficionados). Dempsey preserves the amiable melody lines, stressed via his vibrato-rich guitar, while Oswanski layers on the soul using the organ’s lower notes. Montgomery fans might appreciate “Bock to Bock.” Wes’ brother Buddy penned this gem: the original featured guitar and Buddy’s vibes along with either horns or piano (depending on which take is listened to), but Dempsey redoes it with organ, and the outcome is definitive: the arrangement has a light and stylish touch, bluesy but easygoing. The cover which seems out of left field is an unexpectedly grooving rendition of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” nearer to Aretha Franklin’s adaptation than the Simon and Garfunkel single. It’s here where Dempsey, Oswanski and Atkinson really flow: there’s a slight ‘second line’ New Orleans tint (which Dempsey asserts in his liner notes is a bow to the human tragedy and aftermath related to Hurricane Katrina) as well as an urban NYC flavor (Dempsey says his translation also hints at the damage and community closeness which resulted from Hurricane Sandy’s East Coast devastation). This lengthy cut fades in and fades out, giving the impression it was a longer jam edited to fit the CD’s context: either way, the Simon track is a highlight.

Some of Dempsey’s compositions also were stimulated by remembrance. The beautiful ballad “Always Around” is dedicated to guitarist Joseph Grana, who died in a plane crash in 2008. Dempsey mentions he composed this emotive tribute on his apartment terrace, using Grana’s Martin 000-15M guitar, bequeathed to Dempsey by Grana’s widow. “Always Around” is the sweetest sounding and most engaging number, which emphasizes Dempsey’s lyrical side. Another guitarist is offered a musical testament during “Ted’s Groove,” which honors Ted Dunbar, one of Dempsey’s former teachers and a mentor. The mid-tempo “Ted’s Groove” is dominated by a harmonic depth which echoes Dunbar’s harmonic comprehension and application: the organ/guitar/drums interplay demonstrates the trio’s understanding and ability to handle intricate and complex musical movements.

Dempsey confirms his sense of humor on the bumping “The Big Bailout,” which Dempsey states is “a tongue-in-cheek nod at the banking industry debacle of a few years ago.” This is a straight-up and straightforward groove fest, and still appropriate given present-day problems of a busted budget, a rising debt ceiling, and the Federal government shutdown. Wit also wings through closer “Pat-a-Tat-Tat,” a complimentary cut imbued with guitarist Pat Martino’s personality. On this swift-moving track, Dempsey’s fast fretboard runs reiterate Martino’s up-front quality and associated connection to the organ trio format (early in his career, Martino spent time with Don Patterson, Jimmy Smith, McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, and Jimmy McGriff). For fans of organ jazz trios, Saucy delivers the goods: this is not reinvented or inverted soul-jazz, but rather an honest take on a venerable style which has not yet, and hopefully never will, pass beyond likability. Sal Mormando (whose behind-the-boards skills embrace the blues, alternative folk, and jazz) provides a warm, inspired space for the music: he accentuates the low end on the soulful material but supplies a higher tonality for “Always Around.” Essentially, he puts the nuance on what the music needs, and does not compromise Dempsey’s intentions.

TrackList: One Hundred Ways; Bock to Bock; Saucy; Ted’s Groove; Bridge Over Troubled Water; Always Around; My Secret Love; Ceora; The Big Bailout; Pat-a-Tat-Tat.

—Doug Simpson

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