Mike Ledonne – Keep The Faith – The Groover Quartet – Savant SCD 2114, 59:22 ****:
(Mike LeDonne – Hammond B-3; Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone; Peter Bernstein – guitar; Joe Farnsworth – drums)
The Hammond B-3 electric organ was first introduced on the music scene in 1935, but it wasn’t until the 1950s when Jimmy Smith became the first entertainer to recognize the full technical and performance capabilities of the instrument in jazz. While its popularity has risen and waned over the years, it has had a renewed presence in contemporary jazz settings, with Mike Le Donne becoming one of the leading B-3 exponents.
Taking his then working quartet from the Smoke Jazz Club in New York City into the studio provided LeDonne with the opportunity to record in a disciplined environment and deliver a disc which has a combination of original compositions and other tunes from the likes of Charles Earland, Michael Jackson and Horace Silver. Recognizing the pent- up nature of some R&B classics, LeDonne and the band start off with a burner entitled “The Backstabbers”, an O’Jays million seller from 1972-73. Charles Earland who was one of the great 1960’s soul-jazz organists, penned “Keep The Faith” and thus gives the group the foundation to deliver its bopish version of the tune. Since tenor Eric Alexander‘s first important gig was with Earland, he delivers a solo worthy of the occasion. Another of LeDonne’s early influences was Big John Patton, a hard bop organist. During the 60’s Patton recorded some daring sides for Blue Note and here LeDonne offers his own original tribute “Big John”. The next two cuts come from the pop world, starting with Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” and then Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free”. In the case of the former, the group does not try to emulate the time signature of the Jackson vocal, but offers a mellower rendition while acknowledging the harmonic structure of the tune. As for the Hathaway piece, LeDonne concedes that it has a melodic infrastructure that gives the group something to build on and prance through it they do.
The balance of the disc is all LeDonne originals with the exception of Horace Silver’s “Sweet Sweetie Dee”. This is not one of Silver’s more memorable compositions, but nevertheless still has a funky line on which the group can groove. Of the LeDonne tunes, the group seems especially cohesive on the expressive Latin version of “Waiting For You”.
Mike LeDonne and his cohorts are an imposing group who offer an interesting reinterpretation of those 60’s tenor/organ bands. While acknowledging their roots, they have an entirely different concept of musicality, rhythmic interplay, and technical skill, which is well beyond their predecessors.
TrackList: The Backstabbers; Keep The Faith; Big John; The Way You Make Me Feel; Someday We’ll All Be Free; Scratchin’; Waiting For You; Burner’s Idea; Sweet Sweetie Dee.
— Pierre Giroux