Carl Fischer and Organic Groove Ensemble
Westbury, New York
July 30, 2008
The jazz spirits that haunt this historic venue were probably smiling, swinging and reaching for a cool one last night as phenom jazz trumpeter Carl Fischer and his terrific group, Organic Groove Ensemble generated a veritable jazz-funk firestorm. Tudor architecture inspired, the club, now a dinner and entertainment restaurant, was once the “Cork ‘n’ Bib” nite spot, which featured extended stay jazz acts such as Maynard Ferguson’s big band, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Horace Silver, among many others. Fischer and his mates did everything but bring those spirits back to life as they blistered through an array of jazz-funk tunes that provided these terrific musicians the opportunity to let fly with high energy, creative fire and improvisational flair.
Organic Groove Ensemble, a “nom de swing” play on keyboardist Ron Oswanski’s thundering B3 organ, showcases the talents of musicians who also perform individually with other acts. Beside Ferguson alum Fischer, now a stalwart in the Billy Joel Band, drummer Brian Wolfe and Oswanski have played as standouts with Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Aretha Franklin and others. Brilliant and versatile saxophonist John Scarpulla has been featured with Billy Joel, Tower of Power, Céline Dion and Latin stars Celia Cruz and Willie Colon. Versatile Guitarist Steve Briody has performed with everyone from Randy Brecker to the Funk Filharmonic. All bring their vast experiences here into a gumbo of drive, inspiration and creative fire.
The group opened with a rendition of Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” with Wolfe swinging and as funk-driven as any drummer on the planet. The “B” in Oswanski’s B3 playing must stand for “balls” as he just comped and drove the front men through melody and their solos. Fischer, a powerhouse Baby Bull who can scream with the best of them, never for a moment wallowed in pyrotechnics for their own sake in his terrific solos. His is a trumpet sound that is melt-gorgeous and his mature approach to the instrument will grab you on every improvisational ride up to the top of the horn’s Everest.
Moving into a more jazz-blues-gospel format, Fischer’s original composition, “Hangin’ With Nat,” (in reference to a personal mentor of Fischer’s, the late jazzman Nat Adderley) would make Cannonball and Nat want to sit in. Scarpulla and Fischer wailed through the head which was respectfully reminiscent of the Adderleys’ “Dis Here” “Dat Dere” days and took off from there. Briody’s terrific solos here and elsewhere on the date were a treat, with fingers flying and ideas whirling. Oswanki was a whirl of hands all night as he pulsed and laid the harmonic foundation just so – funky and swinging.
Billy Joel’s “Downeaster Alexa” and Jeff Barone’s hip “Crazy Talk,” which showed Fischer’s funky plunger prowess, were vehicles for each “Groover” to shine. “Nadja” had Fischer’s luscious flugelhorn doubling Scarpulla. Inspired, yet tasteful improvisations followed.
The group’s first set ended with Miles Davis’ composition, “Tutu.” Interestingly, on this tune Fischer employed the use of a multiphonics hook-up reminiscent of that of the late Don Ellis (who also performed here decades ago). No gimmickry here, Fischer laid down layer upon layer of high-speed runs and riffs, one more exciting than the prior. Not to be undone, Scarpulla blasted off in what was his most exciting and inventive solo of the night, exploring the entire range and breadth of the sax. At times it was Brecker-esque; other times it was all Scarpulla. Marvelous.
Carl Fischer and Organic Groove Ensemble will excite you, move you and leave you breathless as they individually and collectively explore new jazz-funk improvisational vistas. The spirit, rapport and drive are fresh and very high-octane. The musicianship First Class. A bravura, cooking performance. I’m certain that the “band upstairs” thinks so also.
Was that Miles really smiling?
By Nicholas F. Mondello