Charles Earland

Jazz Organ Summit

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When four masters of the Hammond B-3 are on the same bill, it's a major event for lovers of soul-jazz and hard bop organ. Charles Earland is listed the leader, but the Philadelphia native is only one of four organists who take the spotlight on this superb live date, which was recorded at the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Earland's adopted home of Chicago. The other B-3 icons are Jimmy McGriff, Dr. Lonnie Smith and the late Johnny "Hammond" Smith, all of whom are equally indebted to the seminal Jimmy Smith -- and all of whom are, like Earland, among the all-time greats of the instrument. Sadly, this special concert turned out to be the last live appearance of "Hammond" Smith, who was in the advanced stages of cancer and had less than two weeks to live. Nonetheless, he finds the strength to play convincingly on "The Masquerade Is Over" and an unaccompanied "Summertime." The latter is incredibly tough to listen to -- its stark, haunting, naked quality sounds like the work of a man who knew he didn't have long to live and was telling his supporters good-bye. Earland is in fine form on his signature tune "More Today Than Yesterday," and McGriff demonstrates his mastery of the 12-bar form on "Gospel Slow Blues" and "Groovin' Blues." Especially surprising is Smith's version of "Cherokee," which he plays as a ballad instead of at the breakneck speed that has so often characterized hard bop and soul-jazz performances of this standard. The disc ends on a high note when all four organists are united for the catchy blues "Summit Time." Documenting a truly historic concert, Organ Summit is a CD that no B-3 enthusiast should be without.

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