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January/February 2007

Moe Denham
The Soul Jazz Sessions
Thortch

A guitar album masquerading as a B3 burner, Moe Denham’s The Soul Jazz Sessions collects a handful of Music City’s fiercest chicken pickers and indulges them in predictably swinging and grooving organ jazz. Touchstones for this outing include Western swing, Lenny Breau’s Nashville-inflected bop and Danny Gatton’s “redneck jazz”—particularly Relentless, Gatton’s 1994 outing with B3 master Joey DeFrancesco. Virtuoso session player John Hiland’s blues-drenched, breakneck runs evoke Gatton on “Song for Stanley T” and the smoky closer “Listen Up,” though Gatton spoke jazz’s advanced harmonic language more convincingly than Hiland, who often reverts to blues- and country-oriented pyrotechnics to make it through his choruses.

John Jorgenson, on the other hand, can navigate not only honky tonk, but also bop and Gypsy jazz styles with a focused expertise rarely heard in generalist pickers. A gorgeous read-through of “September Song” envisions Django recording for Blue Note in the mid-’60s, with Robert Bond spreading a soft rhythmic blanket underneath Denham’s sleepwalking, after-hours organ work. Throughout these sessions, the leader plays with melodicism and restraint, even as his six-stringing counterparts ham it up without shame. He also manages to inject highly patterned, chops-obsessed soul-jazz and Nashville music with some artsiness—the hymnal, baroque intro to “Autumn Leaves,” for example. All that intelligence is for naught, however, when Denham takes to the mic with his tragically schmaltzy vocals.

Originally published in January/February 2007
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