Neil Tesser Liner Notes on December’s Moon – Release date March 19th, 2013
Let me borrow a page from the Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte by saying: This is not an organ record.
As you may know, Magritte famously painted a picture of a tobacco pipe, floating mid-canvas, with the advisory “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”) emblazoned across the bottom. Among other intents, Magritte meant to confound the observer’s expectations – as does Ron Oswanski with this album. It may look like an “organ jazz” record, but trust me: this is anything but.
Considering the fact that Oswanski plays the Hammond B-3 organ; and looking at the instrumentation on this disc, with groupings that feature guitar and/or saxophone (the time-honored components of the organ-combo sound that has become a jazz staple); and remembering that Oswanski’s most recent success has come as a member of David Samuels’s Organik Vibe Trio – considering all that, you’re well within your rights to expect a set of music that builds on the great organ-based, soul-jazz examples of the past.
But on this, his debut album as a leader, Oswanski upends that stereotype. He has extended the repertoire into areas rarely covered by jazz organ players – specifically, the “new cool” revolution contained within the ECM Records catalog of the last 40 years – and in the process has staked territory, largely unexplored, for himself and also for the genre.
As Oswanski explains, “It’s totally not an ‘organ album.’ I wondered, since it’s my first major release, whether I should go completely organ, or do what I normally do – which is play some piano, some organ, and some accordion. You see, my taste in music is not necessarily based in the traditional organ style of the past. For piano, I love the ECM side of music – the focus on space, on that sound – and I wanted to incorporate the organ into that. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and there are some very good organ players out there, like Bill Heid, and Hank Marr. And of course, there are all the traditional jazz organ records. But my piano listening was aimed at Keith Jarrett, Bob Stenson, John Taylor – the ECM pianists, more than the hard-swinging guys.”
Those early listening habits brought Oswanski to the music of guitarist John Abercrombie, who graces five of the performances on this project. “I wanted that sound, that more contemporary edge,” Oswanski explained, “and I always wanted to play with Abercrombie. So we just contacted him, out of the blue, and he was game.” Like many of today’s guitarists, Jay Azzolina has benefited from time spent with Abercrombie’s discs, making him another valued contributor to this music. Saxist Tim Ries (known to the general public for his touring with the Rolling Stones) shares the same sensibilities, and bring his world-music leanings to several tracks. And both drummers – the versatile and much-recorded Clarence Penn and the undersung Ian Froman (described by Oswanski as “an underground secret in New York”) – infuse whatever the music needs, from gentle cymbal fills to rock-energy flams.
It all coalesces in an unexpected (and perhaps even unexpectable) hybrid: the organ’s versatility supports music more intimate and nuanced than we’re used to hearing, and the instrument’s distinctive sound buttresses ensemble textures of depth and warmth. The material comprises Oswanski’s far-flung originals, which range from the pastoral ballad “Milk of the Moon,” to “80-80-8” (with its echoes of another innovative organist, Larry Young) to the peppy, eastern-flavored “Ukrainian Polka.” But the program also includes tunes by respected veteran composers Fred Hersch and Kenny Wheeler, and one (“The Rain Song”) from Led Zeppelin – none of whom have ever been confused with Jimmy Smith or Jack McDuff or Groove Holmes.
So no. This is not an organ record.