B3 jazz at its best!
Robert Kennedy – Closer To Home – Self-Produced, 63:01 ***1/2
(Robert Kennedy – Hammond B-3; Terence Brewer – guitar; Ben Torres – tenor saxophone (tracks 1,3,4,5,6,8,10); Cody Rhodes – drums)
As a Hammond B3 purveyor, Robert Kennedy has forged a unique legacy in the San Francisco/Bay Area music scene. In 1988, he played piano in the Stanford University Jazz Band and studied with renowned educator, Bill Bell. He was involved with local bands, including Hip Pocket Jazz Quintet and Double Funk Crunch. Inspired by the likes of Jack McDuff, Billy Childs, Larry Goldings, Tony Monaco and Herbie Hancock, Kennedy has immersed himself in the genre-bending B3 world of jazz, incorporating hard bop, bop, blues and soul chops. In 2015 he released the debut, Big Shoes. Comprised of all original compositions, this trio recording received critical recognition.
Kennedy’s second album, Closer to Home contains 10 tracks of originals and covers. For good measure, he has added a tenor saxophone (Ben Torres/Pacific Mambo Orchestra) to expand the guitar (Terence Brewer) and drums (Cody Rhodes/Geographer). Opening the set is a traditional jazz number titled “Wild Bill” (a tribute to composer Bill Bell’s father). The tenor provides a muscular opening as the rhythm section stays in lockstep. Kennedy takes over with his fluid shadings before returning in a unison third verse with a rousing finish. Kennedy has provided his personal insights in the liner notes for context. Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere” is a finger-snapping hard bop vamp in trio format with soulful B3 inflections. San Francisco guitarist Brewer offers versatile fluidity and Cody Rhodes shines on drum fills. The arrangement is articulated with succinct phrasing.
Switching gears, “Robert’s Reflection” (written by Dan Frankowski) adopts a ballad-like structure with soulful licks by Torres and Kennedy (with tonal creativity). On his first original (“Come On, Come In”) a silky, but decidedly harder jazz edge is stablished, especially with the prominent tenor runs. Most B3 ensembles have embraced soul jazz. Kennedy pays tribute to the legendary Shirley Scott on “Do You Know A Good Thing (When You See One)?. All three soloists establish the evocative shadings and dynamic grooves that make this music glow with authenticity. Rhodes gets a well-deserved solo. “Sista Rissy” has all of the Sunday reverence that exemplifies gospel (with a subtle 3/4 signature). Kennedy’s organ tonality is church-like, and Torres’ resonant saxophone fills the studio.
Digging into the blues, “Rakin’ And Scrapin’ is straight-ahead blues with punctuated breaks and unbridled enthusiasm. Kennedy’s solo is rhythmic and has some nimble sustain work. Brewer’s licks are compelling and Rhodes’ timing is impeccable. With a memorable vamp, “Carrot Cake” is stellar jazz blues with chord progressions that embrace the ensemble chemistry. Torres’ smooth tenor adds emphasis. Kennedy covers another legend, Clifford Brown on “Sandu”. As advertised, this is classic 12-bar blues and Kennedy colorful translation is executed with grace and warmth. The finale (“Alligator Strut”) is an inspired shout out to the Crescent City that defies genre. Brewer doesn’t hold back on his sprightly, complex guitar solo. Then Torres flexes his muscles, handing it off to Kennedy. Rhodes offers a solo, before the quartet ends in stylish potency.
Hammond B3 jazz is alive and kicking!
Come On, Come In
Do You Know A Good Thing (When You See One)?
Sista Rissy; Rakin’ And Scrapin’
Photo by Linda Cicero