Ian Hendrickson-Smith: Presenting & Blues in the Basement
With the dog days approaching, Presenting captures the cool, refreshing atmosphere of The Cellar Jazz Club. The Night Crawlers recorded at the Vancouver venue in order to capture the raw feel of a live performance, a theme that also runs through Blues in the Basement, the fourth record led by tenor saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith, who also plays on Presenting. Both records are steeped in the blues, but Presenting is more faithful to the "funky organ music made in the '60s and '70s by the likes of Jack McDuff, Big John Patton and Charles Earland, according to Cory Weeds, Cellar owner and Night Crawlers alto saxophonist.
"But It's Alright is a prime example of Weeds' love for hard bop and funk. The tune was written in 1966 by Pierre Tubbs and JJ Jackson, a '60s soul/R&B singer who had written and arranged music for McDuff. In the Night Crawlers' rendition, B-3 organist Chris Gestrin starts the song off with an energetic strut, which Hendrickson-Smith matches with a silky sound on the sax that complements the organ's mentholated tone. This tune also reveals the wonderful dynamic between Weeds and Hendrickson-Smith: the two harmonize well together yet still command attention as individual players.
A blues record is naught without John Patton. Presenting features two of the organist's compositions: "Funky Mamma and "String Bean . The former is almost a waltz between the organ and the guitar (played by Dave Sikula). It's seductive yet buoyant and the Night Crawlers always manage to preserve the earthiness of the tune. The latter is slightly more serious: here, Hendrickson-Smith performs a meditative solo that, though not without its gravitas, never compromises Patton's signature funky groove.
On Blues in the Basement, Hendrickson-Smith is even more commanding as a leader. He possesses a vivacity that probably comes from having performed with the Queen of Funk Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, led by Bosco Mann, who plays the tambourine and congas on this record.
"Jacob's New Crib features Mann's steady hand on the tambourine, offset by Hendrickson-Smith's overconfident (but rightly so!) playing. The tenor saxophonist goes forward relentlessly, his unshakable energy spreading to the other band members like a virus. On side B of the CD, the sextet dials down the energy and pumps up the sensuality. In "Chatterbox , pianist Rick Germanson shows off his chops as he plays a sprawling melody that nearly envelops the song. Meanwhile, trumpeter Dave Guy pours romantic vulnerability into "Hey Baby and acoustic bassist Neal Miner does the same in the title track.
The album, which was recorded live at NYC's Fat Cat, embodies the simplicity, the sweatiness, the honesty of soulful funk jazz. Whereas Presenting remains true to the rhythm and blues of the '60s and '70s, Blues in the Basement adds a fresh, youthful energy to the music. In spite of this divergence between new and old, one thing is for sure: these two records make it difficult to resist the urge to dance.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Funky Mamma; But It's Alright; No Mango No Music; Sanctified Waltz; Fine L'ill Lass; String Bean; Cookin' at the Continental; Outro.
Personnel: Cory Weeds: alto sax; Ian Hendrickson-Smith: tenor sax; Dave Sikula: guitar; Chris Gestrin: B3 organ; Jesse Cahill: drums.
Blues in the Basement
Tracks: Big Weeds; Hello Stranger; Jacob's New Crib; Hey. Baby; Chatterbox; Blues in the Basement.
Personnel: Ian Hendrickson-Smith: tenor sax; Dave Guy: trumpet; Rick Germanson: piano; Neal Miner: acoustic bass; Brian Floody: drums; Bosco Mann: tambourine and congas.