Hammond organist Brian Charette is a new name to KoJ but is a veteran of the New York scene. He regularly features on annual the DownBeat polls, and has played with the likes of Paul Simon, Chaka Khan and Cyndi Lauper, to name but a few. He also holds a black sash in White Crane kung fu, so we'd better give his new album a positive review.
Luckily that's easy, as there's plenty to enjoy. Power From The Air is the third album to feature Charette's band, which is described by the bandleader as a 'wind ensemble'. In addition to the organ rhythm section (Brian Charette - organ, Brian Fishler - Drums), the band features Itai Kriss (Flute), Mike DiRubbo (Alto), Kenny Brooks (Tenor) and Karel Ruzicka (Bass Clarinet).
If you're more accustomed to hearing the Hammond in a stripped-back, funk setting, you're not alone, but the bigger band arrangements here work well. "The reedy sounds of the (wind) section sounds, in my opinion, very complementary to the reedy stops of the Hammond organ," Charette notes. The leader's arrangements are also fantastic, demonstrating the abilities of each band member to great effect.
The album is primarily composed of originals, although there are also covers of Ray Noble's Cherokee and Harlem Nocturne, which was written by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers for Noble's orchestra.
Fried Birds is the swinging opener, and serves as a good introduction, showcasing each member of the ensemble, each of whom takes a solo. The piece is held together by Fishler, who's drumming sets the pace. "The first two albums used unusual harmonic systems of composers like Olivier Messiaen, which has more notes than our major and minor scales," Charette notes. "On the new album, you can hear a little bit of this on the first track."
As If To Say opens with a funky groove, laid out by the rhythm section, from which a more meditative tune develops. The pace picks up as Kenny Brooks delivers the first solo. Charette clearly enjoys playing with some tricky time signatures, but the tunes always remain accessible.
Harlem Nocturne slows the pace, and has more of a late-night feel, and is one of my favourites. Silver Lining is also excellent, Fishler's drumming giving the tune a slight jazz-funk feel, which works well.
Elephant Memory's knotty opening gives way to a more predictable groove, with Charette laying down some funky grooves as Itai Kriss takes the first solo. The title track refers to people that live on 'prana', or life energy; it's got a more relaxed vibe, as the title suggests, with Charette's playing on the chorus particularly enjoyable.
Cherokee is up next, and sees the band pick up the pace, before the slower, more thoughtful Want, which again boasts an unusual time signature. Frenzy brings the album to a close, and has a more relaxed, fun groove.
Interestingly, Charette claims that his work in computer and electronic music fed into his compositions on the new album, and perhaps this helped him to picture how different sounds might work together. His top-notch band certainly help him to pull those ideas together, responding to the challenging compositions put before them, and delivering an album that reveals more with each listen.
Charette has recorded several album's for the Danish Steeplechase label, and if you enjoy this, you will also want to check out some of his small group work, too, including his album with George Coleman.
Power From The Air is released on March 15th.