Jeff Palmer/Devin Garramone/John Fisher – Permutation – Rank R604, 43:54 ***:
(Jeff Palmer – Hammond B-3 organ, producer; Devin Garramone – alto saxophone; John Fisher – drums)
The dictionary defines permutation as a change or transformation; or as an arrangement of items or rearranging of items in a group. The description could certainly apply to Hammond B-3 organist Jeff Palmer’s raison d’être as well as his new trio outing, Permutation. Palmer has pushed the boundaries of his chosen instrument for more than four decades. While he has never abandoned Jimmy Smith’s influential template, Palmer – like Larry Young or Sam Yahel – has continued to evolve the organ’s language to innovative heights.
Palmer’s work does not consistently appeal to soul-jazz purists who insist the Hammond B-3 remain within the grits and gravy groove. Those who are on the outlook for something that imitates Jack McDuff should probably look elsewhere, although there is plenty of soulful material on Palmer’s all-original, 11-track album.
This time out Palmer reduces his group to a basic trio that features alto saxophonist Devin Garramone and drummer John Fisher: on previous releases Palmer utilized guitar, most notably John Abercrombie’s sympathetic assistance. While Abercrombie is surely missed, Garramone is given maximum space for his rich tones, harmonic flair and improvisational diversity.
Funk fans will appreciate the straightforward and upbeat opener, “Dragon,” which echoes the Southern charms of soul ensembles such as Booker T. and the MGs, although Garramone’s enthusiastic alto vibe nods to Eddie Harris’ bluesy quality. “Airplay” follows a similar framework, complemented by Fisher’s in-the-pocket drumming. However, by the time “Penetration” arrives, a feeling of duplication starts to settle in. It is not that the band sits back, but the melody and arrangement seem too comparable to the preceding pieces.
Fortunately Palmer frees up his adventurous side on the slightly jazz-rocking “Dialog” – which begins and ends with the amplified whirring of Palmer’s Leslie speaker – and traverses into a revamped version of the stalwart jazz organ blueprint. Garramone lays out imaginative solos but another voice – perhaps a guitar – would have added some valid dynamics. On the surface, “The Snake” appears to be another unassuming funk vehicle but closer inspection reveals expressive contrasts between melody and harmony elements. The way Palmer and Garramone shift around each other is also intriguing.
Unlike some of Palmer’s earlier efforts that had moody and dark aspects, Permutation is frequently spirited, extroverted and swinging. It is obvious Palmer wanted to advance a pulsing beat and a good time with accessibility at the forefront. Despite the album cover’s spacey Sun Ra-esque artwork, there are no unconventional components. On the other hand, there is a discernible degree of uniformity to the tunes that may turn off some people. Nonetheless the music generally holds interest and is rather agreeable.
2. Air Play
7. The Snake
— Doug Simpson