Wil Blades / Billy Martin

Shimmy

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By all accounts from those who were there, the initial on-stage meeting between drummer Billy Martin and Hammond B-3 organist Wil Blades at the 2011 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was a barn burner of deep, in-the-pocket funk, spiraling soul-jazz, and kinetic grooves. Apparently, the two participants thought so, too; they arranged a late-year West Coast tour, and found time to cut Shimmy in Berkley in the middle of it. Shimmy is greasy; it's full of breakbeat funk, stellar jazz improvisation, and instinctive syncopation. Of these ten tunes -- which range from just over a minute to a tad over seven -- eight were either co-authored by the pair or were written by Blades. The two covers are a fat, nasty reading of Eddie Harris' "Mean Greens" and a straight-up, New Orleans-style take on "Down by the Riverside," with gorgeous, skittering, military-snare breaks from Martin. While there isn't a dud in the bunch, there are some standouts among the originals. "Deep in a Fried Pickle" begins slowly as a rolling, deep funk noir tune, with some great wah-wah effects on B-3 and Martin's backbeat-heavy approach to the vamp allows Blades to get his big batch of chord voicings out and put them on display. It's grimy as hell. "Les and Eddie" reflects -- even with two different instruments -- the true spirit of the collaborations between Les McCann and Eddie Harris. The whomping drum funk of "Toe Thumb," with Blades adding massive, wildly distorted chords to Martin's circular soloing, makes this the meanest tune on the set. The relaxed yet ambitious summertime strut of "Little Shimmy" features startling harmonic work by Blades as Martin urges him on with nearly non-stop fills and rolls while never losing the melodic thrust. Blades' playing style is firmly inside the historic B-3 tradition; he's a deeply melodic improviser, his rhythmic invention and his sonic palette set him apart. Shimmy is everything a drum and B-3 duo record should be: its tunes are high in the fingerpop quotient, it's greasy and danceable throughout, allowing soul-jazz, blues, and funk to get all over one another. Its sense of musical surprise and tight, inspired improvising make it essential for modern jazz and jam band fans.

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