Oliver Lake’s Organ Quartet (2006)

Star-Ledger Staff – Saturday, October 21, 2006
by Zan Stewart

Those who know Montclair saxophonist and composer Oliver Lake only via his more avant garde-leaning work might be surprised by his Organ Quartet, which had its debut Wednesday at Cecil’s in West Orange

Certainly, the performance had spots that reminded a listener of the freewheeling forays of, say, the World Saxophone Quartet, of which the St. Louis native is a co-founder. But there were plenty of moments where Lake, a 40-year jazz vet who primarily played alto saxophone, stood and delivered hearty, hard-cooking stuff, the kind that makes your feet tap and your fingers snap. Lake has led an Organ Trio for about a year with organist Jared Gold and drummer Bill McClellon. On Wednesday, he fattened the band with Teaneck trumpet ace Freddy Hendrix. The event, part of the monthly Black Workers Pub series, was produced by Ron Washington for his organization, the Black Telephone Workers for Justice.

Right off the bat in the first set, Lake made it clear that he wanted to groove when he called the late Chicago trumpeter Malachi Thompson’s “In Walked John.” The vibrant, hard-swinging number could have come from Art Blakey Jazz Messengers’ songbook. The two-horn blend of the leader’s alto and Hendrix’s trumpet was engaging. On top of a robust pulse provided by Gold — a thinking person’s organist who adds expansive harmonies to a song, opening it up — and the sure-swinging McClellon, Lake soloed. He worked with a searing, direct sound, and mixed his ideas — going from bluesy, rhythmically punched ideas and longer, colorful strands to streams of smeared notes and high, split-tone screeches. Hendrix provided contrast with a more mainstream approach that still left room for free expression. His tone was fat, reminding one occasionally of the great Lee Morgan, and his statements always packed rhythmic whammy. Gold’s improvisation revealed his gift for taking small ideas, and creatively linking them into longer attractive lines, and for his variety of alluring chordal textures. Thompson’s “Spirit of Man” was another ardent cooker, underpinned with a Latin/quasi-funk beat. Lake’s in-the-rhythmic-pocket cries, his powerful held tones, and his plain down-home thoughts showed he was a first-rate funkmeister. His galloping squibs of notes, and his high popped tones showed he had more than getting down on his mind. Hendrix and Gold also found plenty to say here.

Lake’s “Brass and Oak” was a little more cerebral, but still Lake found a way to slip in deft bop-based lines amidst his more open-minded thoughts. Eric Dolphy’s “Serene” had a more laid-back feel, as did Lake’s “Dedicated to B.C. (for Benny Carter).” The latter showcased Hendrix’s capacity for creating fresh-sounding lines, and the composer’s ability for intense figures that seemed to dance. The gospel number “I Want to Walk with Jesus” was a solid set-closer. After a long, free-form opening cadenza from the members and the theme from the horns, Lake soloed, while Hendrix played the theme; then vice versa. It was exuberant.

Lake hosts a Passin’ Thru MusicFest Friday and Oct. 28 at Sweet Rhythm, 88 Seventh Ave. South, New York. Among the bands performing will be Lake’s Big Band, his Organ Trio with vocalist Dee Alexander, and Trio Three, with Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille. Call (212) 255-3626 or visit www.sweetrhythmny.com.