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10/26/11

Mike LeDonne
Keep the Faith
Savant

Mike LeDonne built his reputation first as a pianist and later as an organist, and it seems he’s decided to focus more on the Hammond B3 these days. That’s probably a good thing for him, as the field of jazz organists is much less crowded.

Keep the Faith is the quick follow-up to last year’s The Groover, from the group he now calls the Groover Quartet; it includes three exceptionally gifted musicians in tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth. They deploy everything in their arsenal on a cover of the O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers,” from LeDonne’s seemingly 20-fingered attack to Alexander’s warm and strong blowing.

Most of these nine tunes are uptempo (or über-uptempo) numbers that showcase not only the individuals’ outstanding skills but also the band’s cohesiveness. (It has been together for more than a decade, and it shows.) It is during these barnburners—songs like “Scratchin’” and the title track—that the quartet operates at full capacity with deep grooves, bluesy guitar riffs and keyboard gymnastics that would give some people carpal tunnel. The slower pieces are nearly as infectious, especially “Big John,” a tribute to organ great Big John Patton that gives the guys, particularly Bernstein, opportunity to stretch out.

LeDonne has yet to establish himself as an original voice on the organ, but so what? His group, which encapsulates everything we love about ’60s-style, organ-led soul jazz, continues to put out eminently enjoyable records that would make Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff tap their feet.

Originally published in October 2011
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