Back in the '70s, soul-jazz albums featuring a tight trumpeter and saxophonist backed by a deep groove organist and persistent drummer were routine. Prestige probably turned out more recordings of that genre than most other labels—with organists like Don Patterson, Charles Earland, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Brother Jack McDuff and Leon Spencer Jr. The front line often featured saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and trumpterer Virgil Jones, with Idris Muhammad behind them on drums. [Pictured at top: Jim Rotondi]
On trumpeter and flugelhornist Jim Rotondi's new album Hard Hittin' at the Bird's Eye (Sharp Nine), those '70s days are back. Recorded live in Basel, Switzerland, Rotondi is joined by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, organist Renato Chicco and drummer Bernd Reiter. Rotondi has a tart, lyrical attack that's rich with melodic, penetrating lines. Alexander complements him perfectly with a powerful, slippery tone.
But the sound that bonds the group is Chicco's organ. Chicco [pictured] is astonishingly '70s accurate and so dexterous there's no need for a guitar or bass. He manages to fill all of the spaces with deft riffs and multiple textures. Give a listen to Amsterdam After Dark and Higher Calling. You'll hear four musicians working like roller-derby teammates—hurling each other forward with velocity for solos. Some pretty fancy skating here.
This is one of my favorite albums of the year—and doubly astonishing considering it's a live date. You'd never know an audience was in attendance.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Jim Rotondi's Hard Hittin' at
the Bird's Eye (Sharp Nine) here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Summit Meeting...