Mark Gardner’s liner notes open with the salvo, “Many jazz critics are sniffy about the organ.” While pleading guilty, I admit that Gary Versace is an uncommonly graceful, fluid organist. But sometimes it sounds like he is fighting a losing battle against the instrument’s natural tendencies. Many Places is not funky and greasy enough for most organ fans, yet its efforts to be tasteful and musical must overcome the Hammond B3’s unlovely, artificial, one-dimensional sound (to give it a sniffy description).
The format is also limiting, an opinion supported by comparing Many Places to a contemporaneous SteepleChase album, Harold Danko’s Oatts and Perry. Both feature Dick Oatts—the Danko disc in a conventional quintet (and Oatts on his strongest instrument, alto saxophone), the Versace in a trio with drummer Matt Wilson (and Oatts on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones). The Danko album allows Oatts to create over a rich and varied musical and emotional range. The Versace CD is a two-trick pony. There are the light, bright grooves of the five Versace originals, and four clever transformations into jump tunes of standards usually taken as ballads (“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” “September in the Rain”).
In the spirit of avoiding sniffiness, it must be noted that Dick Oatts is the real deal, even on his second- and third-best horns.