Craig Handy – Craig Handy and 2nd Line Smith [TrackList follows] – OKeh 372183, 52:36 [Distr. by Sony] [1/21/14] ****:
(Craig Handy – flute, alto and tenor saxophone; Clark Gayton – sousaphone; Matt Chertkoff – guitar; Dee Dee Bridgewater – vocals (track 2); Al Jackson, Jr. – drums; Kyle Koehler – Hammond B-3 organ; Jason Marsalis – drums, tambourine (tracks 1, 3-4, 7); Wynton Marsalis – trumpet (track 8); Herlin Riley – drums, tambourine, washboard; Clarence Spady – guitar, vocals (track 8))
Craig Handy has created a double dose of soulful jazz on his Ok\Keh label debut, the 10-track Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith. The multi-sax/flute player has combined a New Orleans second-line rhythmic foundation (hence the album title) with soulful jazz related to or akin to Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith (some tunes were written by Smith, while others were covered by Smith) or material associated with likeminded musicians who performed with Smith, such as Stanley Turrentine or Wes Montgomery. To say the 52-minutes of music swings and grooves is an understatement. If this stuff doesn’t get your toes tapping, your head nodding or your fingers snapping, you may need to seek medical attention. Handy is no stranger to keeping traditional jazz in the spotlight. As a member of the Cookers, he has helped serve up a heap of hard bop and post-bop artistry; he has backed singers such as Betty Carter and Dee Dee Bridgewater (who guests on one cut here); and other credits include Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis (who also lends a hand on this record). Handy explains, in an online promo video, that his new music has a larger aim, as well: to use New Orleans musical conventions (which have been a springboard for not only jazz, but early rock music, soul and more) as a “launch pad to foster creativity and develop new ideas in new ways and new paths.”
Handy is supported by a talented crew: sousaphone player Clark Gayton (who ably takes the place of a bass); Al Jackson, Jr., Herlin Riley and Jason Marsalis, who split duties on drums; and his regular bandmates Kyle Koehler (Hammond B-3 organ) and guitarist Matt Chertkoff. Guitarist/vocalist Clarence Spady sits in on one piece. The Crescent City-meets-Smith vibe kicks in on the third number, “Organ Grinder’s Swing,” which has been connected to the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald and of course Smith: it was the title track on his 1965 album Organ Grinder Swing. Handy also reels through another one from Organ Grinder Swing, the standard “I’ll Close My Eyes,” which features a high-flying sax workout. Koehler and Chertkoff trade licks and swap solos in the spirit of Smith and Kenny Burrell (who performed the song with Smith). Another hit tune Smith took a pass at was “Hi-Heel Sneakers” (titled here as “High Heel Sneakers”), the Tommy Tucker single covered by over a thousand artists, from Stevie Wonder to the Beatles, and from John Lee Hooker to the Grateful Dead. Gayton opens with a few bars on sousaphone to set a Mardi Gras-styled tone, and then Handy steps in to further lay out the bobbing theme, and through the next six minutes, the band punches up a party atmosphere. Smith loved the blues and one of his most memorable ones was the title track for his 1966 LP Got My Mojo Workin’. While Smith’s version also utilized horns, he emphasized a soul temperament, whereas Handy accentuates a New Orleans feel. Spady shows off his vocal chops (and also supplies drums and washboard); while Gayton, Handy and Wynton Marsalis (who furnishes lively trumpet accents) provide the swinging brass accompaniment, and the drums and organ maintain a danceable groove. The group sustains a smoother response on “O.G.D. (aka Road Song),” a Montgomery composition from 1966’s The Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes, one of two collaborations Montgomery did with Smith on the Verve label. The proceedings twist a bit on the old chestnut, “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” where Bridgewater brings an insouciant charm to the famous song also done by Dave Brubeck, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. While the band takes a joyful spin through the arrangement, she sings and scats with delightful results. Smith, by the way, did this as an instrumental in 1960 on his album, Back at the Chicken Shack, with Burrell and Turrentine: it was quite different from the way Handy handles this piece. Turrentine’s “Minor Chant” (another one from Back at the Chicken Shack) has a colorful, cadenced glide due in part to Jason Marsalis’ harmonized ride cymbal and bass drum, as well as Koehler’s sliding organ runs.
Other notable tunes on Handy’s record comprise Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Almost Lost My Mind,” (which has some stylish Jason Marsalis support) from Smith’s 1963 effort, Prayer Meetin,’ which was another Smith project with Turrentine; the funky “Mellow Mood” (also from The Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes), which highlights Handy’s soprano sax; and Smith’s “Ready ‘N Able,” from his 1956 outing, The Champ. Craig Handy and 2nd Line Smith proves groove can still be king, and great music can uphold tradition while pushing forward. It might be too early to start touting best-of-the-year releases, but Handy’s latest should certainly be a contender.
TrackList: Minor Chant; On the Sunny Side of the Street; Organ Grinder’s Swing; I Almost Lost My Mind; High Heel Sneakers; Ready ‘n’ Able; O.G.D. aka Road Song; Mojo Workin’; Mellow Mood; I’ll Close My Eyes.
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