I was not familiar with organist Mike LeDonne prior to listening to his new Savant CD Keep The Faith. LeDonne grew up on hard soul and funk before falling under the spell of Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery and the swing feeling. He spent eleven years in the legendary vibist, Milt Jackson’s quartet before establishing “The Groover Quartet” with saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth. LeDonne’s band is well name as they hit the groove and run hard with it.
This disc opens with a dynamic rendition of the O’Jay’s hit, The Backstabbers, which establishes the mood with Alexander as well as the leader both being especially striking as drummer Farnsworth provides the hard swinging rhythm. The late Charles Earland was a major influence on LeDonne, and the Earland penned title track that hurdles out the gate like a runaway midnight special. Alexander takes things up a notch followed by fiery single note playing by Bernstein who certainly has become one of the most in demand guitarists (Sonny Rollins for one) and so at home in the context of an organ band. The leader himself provides plenty of chicken fried grease here as well followed by the three trading fours with drummer Farnsworth. Its typical of the fire to be heard here.
LeDonne’s original blues, Big John, is a tribute to another jazz organ master, John Patton. The relaxed walking tempo provides a change of pace from the burners that opened this album. It is followed by the relaxed groove in an interpretation of Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel.” The four invest quite a bit of feeling into Donny Hathaway’s classic Someday We’ll All Be Free. Another LeDonne original, Scratchin’ is fleet groover as Bernstein takes a driving solo followed by some strong tenor sax while “Burner’s Idea” is a hot bluesy number that shows inspiration in Earland’s similarly styled compositions (Earland’s nickname was “The Mighty Burner”). The leader takes us to the church of organ blues here.
This writer is an unabashed fan of organ jazz. Listening to this was like being an eleven year boy alone in a candy store. However, the musical treats of Mike LeDonne and The Groover Quartet, on Keep The Faith, have no calories, don’t promote tooth decay and is musically enriching. LeDonne has produced a superior organ jazz recording that will be listened to repeatedly by this writer.
My review copy was provided by Jazz & Blues Report for whom this review was written. Here is Mike and the Groover Quartet at the 2010 Chicago Jazz Festival.