There’s always something incredibly nostalgic and heartwarming about the classic jazz crooner. For someone like me, who was never alive to experience the golden days of artists like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and the rest of the gang, I can still draw nostalgia from my memories of sitting by the fire in my family home, listening to such tunes from my father’s (and grandmother’s) record collection. Today, the vocal tradition is carried on by notable greats such as Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, but the man who kicked off the modern era of contemporary vocal music surely has to be Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry Connick, Jr. is a man of many talents, or voices, rather. He has just released his latest album, Every Man Should Know, and he takes on the personality of many different characters throughout the record. Granted, all of these characters are the same person – himself – but they represent his person in different situations and stages of life. When talking about the meaning behind the album, Connick says, “I used to be more comfortable writing in a fantasy-style concept, using ideas that intrigued me but didn’t necessarily come from personal experience. It’s one thing to assume the role of a storyteller – it’s quite another when the story is your own. I felt ready to explore some of my personal experiences in some of the songs this time around.”
I’d say it’s about time I dig into the archives of music released earlier than just the past few years. As soon as I made that decision, one specific artist popped into my head almost immediately: Herbie Hancock. And why not? He’s only one of the most influential musicians ever to exist in the jazz fusion world. I would bet money that a large majority of the artists that I’ve featured previously on the site were influenced either directly or indirectly in some form by Herbie Hancock. He was a man who extended his creative genius far beyond the world of jazz. He was a musical innovator that made breakthroughs in the use of electronic synthesizers and freeform improvisation. He combined stylistic elements of jazz, blues, funk, and modern classical music into a totally unique fusion of genres. The legacy which he has created will last for many long years to come and influence many new generations of musicians. Anyone who claims that Hancock was “before their time” deserves to be slapped senseless.
The album that I’m focusing on in particular today is one of his 1974 releases, Thrust. As the followup to his ’73 release Headhunters, Hancock was now firmly entrenched in the widely popular, highly competitive funk-jazz-fusion game of the era. But Herbie is never one to be outshined or assimilated into a much greater collection of mediocre artists. No, he has always been the one to push the limits past the point where anyone thought they could go. In order to accomplish such a gargantuan undertaking, he’s assembled a legendary cast of characters to accompany him. On bass guitar is his main man, Paul Jackson, who went on to play on nine of Hancock’s subsequent releases. Bernie Maupin, a master multireedist, takes care of all the lead woodwind parts. Aside from his work with Herbie, he is most well known for his performance on the seminal Miles Davis album Bitches Brew, his role as a bandleader, and his collaborations with the likes of Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner.
Album artwork for Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3
Perhaps it would be unwise to say that Kevin Coelho is one of the best jazz organists this world has ever seen. To make such a bold statement, given the genre’s rich and expansive history, would surely step on many people’s toes. The boy is only seventeen, after all. For all we know, he may not even be allowed to legally drive anything, let alone a B3. Why is it, then, that I can feel him channeling that same energy that we hear from all the jazz and blues superstars we’ve come to love? As a rising star himself, Coelho is a living embodiment of the power of music; it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, as long as you create honest, impassioned music. This is certainly the case with his debut album, Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3.
Right off the bat, it is easy to tell that Kevin Coelho truly is basking in “the joy of driving a B3.” The record starts off by immediately throwing you into the swing of the title track, “Funkengruven.” Coelho teams up with guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson to form one of the most tightly-knit trios I’ve heard in quite some time. It quickly becomes evident that all three of them are instrumental masters in their own right, and the chemistry between them shines through. As the group starts off by running through the head of the first tune, we are lured in by a relatively calm, modest opening. And then, before you can say “jivin’ jitterbugs,” Coelho kicks it up a notch with his first organ solo on the album. This is one it starts to get real. Although he starts out soft, he continues to escalate more and more, until you suddenly find yourself wondering how such creative ingenuity is even possible. Definitely a fantastic way to kick off the record.