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Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3-- Kevin Coelho

Tony Monaco was mentored by Jimmy Smith as a teenager and was subbing by the age of 16 for Hank Marr and Dr. Lonnie Smith at clubs in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, before going on to become one of today's leading jazz organists. Monaco in turn has mentored Kevin Coelho, and in his role as executive producer of Chicken Coup Records has recorded the 16-year-old organist's debut CD, Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3. Monaco and Coelho's other teachers--which include Wil Blades and Randy Masters--should all be proud, for Coehlo plays with a maturity well beyond his years and an already developing individual style. Coehlo attends Los Altos High School in California and has played professionally for three years, including jazz festivals with his group The Groove Messengers. Monaco wisely matched up Coelho with his own longtime rhythm team of guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson, and the resulting trio chemistry produced one rewarding track after another.

Coelho wrote the title tune "Funkengruven" with both funk and swinging groove in mind, and the tune and its performance succeeds in exuding each thanks to the organist's riffs and soulful phrasings, his buoyantly enduring bass lines and the ecstatic climactic passages of his solo. DiCenzo's improv is lucid and insinuating, and Jackson's drums provide a flexible and constructive underpinning. For "Cantaloupe Island," Coelho's "James Brown bass line" and Jackson's beat help to recreate Herbie Hancock's classic, making it refreshingly funky. The leader's solo displays his maturity, focused and communicative. DiCenzo's invention features nimble, prancing phrases, and the exciting arranged final section finds Coelho's hardy vamps interacting with Jackson's audacious drumming. Coelho makes Randy Masters' gospel-laced "Take a Stand" his own, as does the guitarist in his ingratiating solo. Both artists are able to avoid flashiness or overplaying and still succeed in conveying a meaningful and appealing message. Coelho's sustained notes are neither cliched or overbearing, and his chosen syrupy organ sound on this track is pleasantly soothing.

Masters' Latin tune "Chagalu" has a bit of the trio's "Cantaloupe Island" to it in the rhythmic structure. Coelho's comping ability is notable here as he ably supports DiCenzo's melodic solo before launching his own jublant flight, which in this case recalls Richard "Groove" Holmes' modus operandi. Ceelho's arrangement of "Dock of the Bay" funks up Otis Redding's tune, and the organist milks the melody for all it's worth in a beguiling, unpretentious reading, and in an extended fresh-voiced solo that never wears out its welcome. DiCenzo's reply possesses clean well-delineated lines and a mellow disposition, and his closing unison coda with Coelho is a delight. "McJimmy" is Coelho's tribute to one of his idols, Jimmy McGriff. This feel-good grooving romp has an irresistible bass line and ardent "chicken shack" exaltations by Coelho, and DiCenzo's subtly insistent solo is a keeper all the way. Jackson is powerfully of the moment in his trades with the organist and guitarist before Coelho riffs and swirls his way through the reprise.

Coelho tackles Miles Davis' tricky "Donna Lee" with much flair and bass pedal artistry. The up tempo seems to render DiCenzo a little choppy in his solo, but Coelho follows in smooth and pulsating fashion, with piercing held tones and a variety of timbral effects. The duo's exchanges with Jackson are again both invigorating and substantive. Countless organists have performed "Tangerine," and Coelho's cool, serene, and confident rendition is yet another sign of just how seasoned his approach has already become. His pliant voicings always seem to be right on, and add appreciated depth to his expressions. DiCenzo aces this tune as well with a note-bending, bluesy solo, as Coelho and Jackson team to maintain a pleasurable loping stride. Dr. Lonnie Smith's creeping theme, "Play It Back," is enhanced by DiCenzo's brooding vamp and Jackson's snappy back beat, which lay the foundation for Coelho's wailing, howling, and moaning reflections on it, the essence of funk and groove. The guitarist also gets down and dirty in his solo, and the well-arranged, suspensefully driven middle section gives the drummer a chance to strut his stuff. Coelho and DiCenzo eloquently share the melody of "What's New," before the organist embarks on a long statement that is compelling and moving from start to finish. The guitarist's apt comping and his own deeply heartfelt solo should not be overlooked. This is eight-plus minutes of masterful ballad playing, just one of the many attractions of Coelho's auspicious debut.

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Scott Albin