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Garry Elliott and Bumpin' Binary make the organ trio fresh and compelling (review)

Don Cummings, Mike Essoudry, Garry Elliott ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Garry Elliott and Bumpin' Binary
GigSpace Performance Studio
Saturday, May 23, 2015

Just a few days after Mad Men ended its TV recollections of the 1960s, three Ottawa musicians brought some of that decade's music back – and made it fresh and compelling.

It was an evening of organ trio music, with guitarist Garry Elliott performing for the first time with the Bumpin' Binary duo: Don Cummings on Hammond organ and Mike Essoudry on drums. And their inspiration came from the giants of that genre, including organist Jimmy Smith and guitarist Grant Green.

There was groove – lots of it. There were sharp contrasts between bright guitar licks and light cymbal taps, and the full organ chords. And there was melody and feeling expressed in the slower numbers.

The organ trio, with Hammond B3, drums and either electric guitar or saxophone, flourished in the 60s with artists like Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and Jack McDuff on organ teaming up with guitarists like Green, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, and Wes Montgomery. After a partial eclipse over the next few decades, it's been revived more recently by musicians like Joey DeFrancesco and Larry Goldings. Saturday's set-list was primarily organ trio numbers originally recorded in the 1960s. Elliott told OttawaJazzScene.ca after the show that the three had sat down and listened to classic organ trio albums to determine the list. Then they added several of their own originals, plus one more modern piece by Vancouver saxophonist Cory Weeds, which Weeds had recorded with organist Mike LeDonne and guitarist Peter Bernstein.

They opened with “Blues for J”, a number which Jimmy Smith recorded with Kenny Burrell back in 1965, which featured intense solos by both Elliott and Cummings. Other memorable classics included the Grant Green number, “Somewhere in the Night”, which started as a romantic ballad and added more sizzle and energy as it progressed; “Inception”, where Elliott's flurries of fast notes contrasted with rippling lines on organ and a hard-edged drum solo; the propulsive and punctuated “Matador”; and “Little Sunflower”, which began with African-style rhythms, became more formal and atmospheric, and then turned into a punchy, hard-edged blues.

Essoudry and Cummings contributed compositions which had been included on their Back-Talk Organ Trio CD from several years ago. Essoudry's “Black Flower” was an intimate, reflective number which featured intricate organ lines; Cummings' “Leo's Lullaby” filled the room with waves of sound, but always with a peaceful, delicate vibe: quiet organ chords and light cymbals and guitar lines. Elliott contributed two pieces: the melodious and melancholy “Summer's End” (which inspired a humorous comment from the audience that Ottawa's summer hadn't even started this year, so this piece might be a bit premature); and the bright “Triple Latté”, featuring forceful, bluesy guitar, fast organ lines, and lots of trading fours among all three.

GigSpace is an intimate, 46-seat space, which is more used to jazz vocalists or guitar trios. Cummings did noticeably reduce the volume of his Hammond A organ and Leslie speaker to fit the quieter space, and the full house soaked up sound to the point where I, sitting in the left-hand side of the front row, was comfortable with the sound levels.Several people sitting front row centre, however, did move to the back for the second set. Mind you, they were also just two metres in front of the drums and the guitar amp.

I think the subdued sound levels may have subdued Cummings' performance: he was more low-key overall than I've heard him at Mugshots or Le Petit Chicago, although still contributing substantially on his organ to the interest and the complexity of the music.

Nevertheless, the sold-out audience listened carefully and applauded strongly throughout, really getting into the tunes – and ending the show with huzzahs as well. Having heard Cummings and Essoudry play together for many years in a number of different groups, I wasn't surprised at how well they worked together, but it was delightful to hear how well the sound of Elliott's archtop electric melded with them. There was an excellent mix of texture and groove in the trio's music, and a lot of excitement and fun, too.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set 1:

  • Blues for J (Jimmy Smith)
  • Somewhere in the Night (Theme from Naked City) (Billy May/Milt Raskin, as recorded by Grant Green)
  • Black Flower (Mike Essoudry)
  • Blossoms in May (Cory Weeds) (from Big Weeds, with Peter Bernstein, Mike LeDonne, and Joe Farnsworth)
  • Inception (McCoy Tyner)
  • Summer's End (Garry Elliott)
  • Triple Latté (Garry Elliott)

Set 2:

  • Matador (Grant Green)
  • Leo's Lullaby (Don Cummings)
  • Short Story (Joe Henderson)
  • Idle Moments (Duke Pearson)
  • Little Sunflower (Freddie Hubbard)
  • High-Heeled Sneakers (by Robert Higginbotham, as recorded by Grant Green)

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2015