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Mark Whitfield: Mark Whitfield and the Groove Masters

I’m a sucker for a good organ-trio record, and this is a great one. Recorded on tour in Japan and released by a small Japanese label, Mark Whitfield and the Groove Masters is a guitarist’s tribute to two recently departed organ greats, Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff.

It’s a hair-raising romp. Whitfield’s dynamic, intelligent playing supplies the ideal foil for the explosive work of organist Dr. Lonnie Smith-a master in his own right-and drummer Winard Harper. On Smith’s barnburner “The Whip,” Whitfield picks out an intricate solo while Smith builds chords into swells and splashes glissandos all over. “Bye Bye Blackbird” begins in a state of relaxation-Smith’s organ seems to whisper-but it develops into a deep groove, each musician propelling the others along until the tune grows loud and bold.

Things really heat up mid-album. Wes Montgomery’s familiar theme “OGD (Road Song)” is all thick and beefy, full of aggressive drumming and a persistent driving organ. On Whitfield’s hard-swinging “Going Through Changes,” the trio puts on a clinic in the art of building and releasing tension. Just when things threaten to boil over, they simmer down with a medley that finds Whitfield plucking alone on “Midnight Sun” before his mates join in, ever so subtly, for some beautiful bars of “What’s New.” This outing is simply fantastic.

Originally Published