Keith Oxman – East of the Village – Capri 

Keith Oxman – East of the Village [TrackList follows] – Capri 74145-2, 60:36 [2/17/17] ****:

Bringing back soulful 1960s organ jazz with a few modern twists.

(Keith Oxman – tenor saxophone; Jeff Jenkins – Hammond B3 organ, mixing, mastering; Todd Reid – drums)

Big thumbs up to Denver-based tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman and his organ trio for a swinging good time on their newest release, the hour-long East of the Village. From start to finish, the ten tracks (seven covers and three originals) bring poise, polish and precision to a tribute to classic 1960s soul jazz. Oxman typically uses a piano, sax and bass configuration, but recently he began exploring a more soul-drenched approach and the result is one of the best soul-jazz efforts of the year.

Rather than relying solely on well-known standards from the Great American Songbook, or oft-done jazz touchstones, Oxman, Hammond B3 organist Jeff Jenkins (who has worked with Phil Woods, Freddie Hubbard, David “Fathead” Newman, Bobby Hutcherson and John Abercrombie) and drummer Todd Reid (his credits include Mose Allison, Richie Cole, Curtis Fuller and Red Holloway) utilize relatively unknown material in their set list. So, while the soulful sound might have some sense of familiarity (organ, sax and drums do tend to intermingle in a comparable fashion no matter the recording), there are some nice surprises along the way. Jule Styne’s “Bye Bye Baby” is one prime example. Instead of going to an easily identifiable choice for the album’s opener, Oxman opted for a brisk interpretation of a tune sung by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Sinatra covered the song as well, but it is not recognized by most listeners. Oxman’s arrangement has leaping melodic lines, moments of bop-fueled sax, and Jenkins’ blues-tinted organ riffs. Much more obscure is James Hanley’s “Breeze (Blow My Baby Back to Me),” which dates to the Vaudeville period. Hanley is famous for pop staples such as “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” and “Indiana.” But “Breeze” went undiscovered by most artists. Oxman heard about when Clark Terry mentioned it in the 2014 documentary Keep on Keepin’ On. “Breeze” is an enjoyable selection which swings non-stop, has notable interaction between organ, sax and drums, and a melody which is guaranteed to stick in one’s brain. Now that the secret is out, expect others to also add “Breeze” to their repertoire. The other interpretive material is probably more customary to jazz or pop fans. The longest piece is Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Deep in a Dream,” a ballad which has been done by Chet Baker, Sonny Clark, Sinatra, Artie Shaw and many more. Oxman showcases his temperate clarity and infectious lyricism, while Jenkins and Reid supply a supple rhythmic support. This is the kind of slow-boiling number readymade for sipping whiskey while counting the minutes to closing time. Another standard worth re-hearing is Fred Ahlert’s “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” penned in 1930 and a major hit for both Nat King Cole and Jo Stafford. Numerous musicians from Van Morrison to Paul Anka have translated it. Oxman, Jenkins and Reid sustain some playfulness and joie de vivre, keeping it light and bouncy, but replete with softened virtuosity. “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” may swing comfortably, but that doesn’t mean the trio glides along without some fine improvisation. Not all the covers come from the Hit Parade, Broadway or likeminded areas. The album’s title track is a Hank Mobley tune from 1963, and Oxman and company turn into an extended workout which demonstrates Oxman’s tenor sax facility, and then Jenkins’ expresses his highly-developed organ talent. There’s no slow going here, no laying back: Jenkins goes all out, from sweeping low notes to higher-register flurries.

Each trio member presents one original apiece. Reid’s “A Vaunt Guard” has a twisting and turning arrangement, a modernistic demeanor with agile spins for sax, drums and organ. The shifting rhythm makes this one an asymmetrical cut. “A Vaunt Guard” doesn’t ramble or lose direction, but to use an old cliché, it’s a bit ‘wonky,’ but in a wonderfully bent way. Jenkins’ “A Shorter Route” is more straightforward and straight-ahead, with more than a whiff of the Blue Note sound: think the early LPs from Wayne Shorter, hence the track’s title. Jenkins’ is a mature force of nature during his solo: superb, undiluted virtuosity. He doesn’t burn, but rather percolates with scrupulous skill. Oxman’s “Michel and Jean-Marc” comes near the program’s conclusion. Oxman begins with a conventional stance, and gradually alters the trajectory, so eventually there is a slightly edgy structure with absorbing harmonic action. It’s the kind of organ, sax, drums tune which yields more details upon repeated play. If you’re a Hammond B3 fan, you should take the time to listen to Oxman’s East of the Village.

Bye Bye Baby
East of the Village
Deep in a Dream
Breeze (Blow My Baby Back to Me)
A Vaunt Guard
Walkin’ My Baby Back Home
The Shorter Route
Lucky to be Me
Brothers, Michel and Jean-Marc
(I’ve Got) Beginner’s Luck

—Doug Simpson

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