Brian Charette: Alphabet City

Organist Brian Charette mingles jazz, old-school soul and psychedelia on Alphabet City, his ninth recording as a leader. Joined by guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Rudy Royston, Charette presents a dozen original compositions that groove and soothe about as often as they challenge and provoke the ear.

As writer and instrumentalist, Charette is at his best when giving sway to mellower inclinations, and a breezy vibe marks “West Village” and “Avenue A,” the latter an especially fine showcase for Bernard’s warm, robust tone. “White Lies” has a slow-drag pathos with just a tinge of country, while “East Village” shuttles along at a gallop, Charette at his most inventive. The trio also brings some serious funk on the hard-cooking “They Left Fred Out” and the deep groove of “Sharpie Moustache,” which blossoms into a gorgeously anthemic bridge powered by Charette’s choir-like block chords and Bernard’s just-twangy-enough lines.

Charette also indulges a taste for space-age freak-out sounds with the rough-edged “Not a Purist,” with dizzying every-key-on-the-organ runs, stinging fuzz-rock interjections from Bernard and crackling circuit-bent synthesizer interludes. This bizarro mood continues on “Hungarian Major,” with its tense minor-keyed Eastern European scales; Charette’s playing here sometimes recalls creepy organ parts from a Saturday-night Chiller Theatre horror show. These tunes, along with the congenial “Split Black” and its Zappa-esque Bernard breaks, sometimes sit uneasily alongside the more straightforward soul-style tracks. But they do provide the album’s strongest moments from Royston, galvanized by the airy spaces of the rockish arrangements into bursts of thunder.

Many listeners will find themselves skipping Alphabet City‘s outrĂ© tracks for the more directly communicative material-and vice versa. But the album itself shouldn’t be missed. It’s a solid addition to both Charette’s discography and the classic organ-trio tradition.