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Ben Paterson: For Once in My Life (Origin)

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The jazz audience contains people, present company not necessarily excepted, who are resistant to the charms of the Hammond B-3. They find it a somewhat vulgar instrument, with unpleasant, artificial sonorities. They all need to meet Ben Paterson. He may be the most purely musical organist out there. He is not into shrieking and raising hell. He is not about sweat and grease. His virtues are ones not normally associated with the B-3, such as finesse and nuanced melodicism.

But he still swings his ass off. On tunes like “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Blues for C.F.,” his trio with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer George Fludas finds a subtle, wicked groove and stays there. Their graceful, sensuous glide sounds natural, not forced.

The most interesting tracks translate famous songs into a fresh organ language. “Cry Me a River” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” are full and lush, Paterson laying down sustained foundational orchestral chords, Bernstein cutting elegant patterns into the air above. Bernstein has been an invaluable sideman in a wide variety of contexts, including Sonny Rollins’ best recent band. He elevates Paterson’s project, and enhances its expressive range, with one succinct, lucid solo after another. He flows far from “Cry Me a River,” into new streams. You think he left the song behind, until you hear that he brought it with him.

The best musicians have their own sound. It is probably easier for horn players than for those who play instruments with relatively fixed sonic signatures, like keyboards, especially electric ones. In Paterson’s hands, the organ need not holler to demand your attention. He can make the B-3 sound like seduction. He can make it croon softly and beautifully, right in your ear.

Originally Published

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.