The third SteepleChase release by Brian Charette’s freakishly swinging organ sextet—and his 19th release overall—takes unusual turns, leading the listener down paths adorned with so many forks that you’ll be sated, if at times confused, by record’s end. The key ingredient? Charette’s use of Olivier Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition, which, while only literally used in the first song, seem to influence the entire album.
With Charette working a frothy modern version of a Hammond B-3 like McGriff and McDuff, Power from the Air initially comes on like a blast of grits-and-gravy goodness, only to be teeter-tottered by dissonant ensemble sections and odd-metered, often over-the-bar-line figures that could spin heads and scare farm animals. But that’s the album’s undeniable, if quirky, charm, cracking a new wrinkle in old-fashioned duds.
“Fried Birds” is a perfect example. On its face it’s a joyous, medium up-tempo vehicle, yet its melody is a slightly nauseous brew executed by the group’s unusual front line of flute (Itai Kriss), alto sax (Mike DiRubbo), tenor sax (Kenny Brooks), and bass clarinet (Karel Ruzicka). Head stated, everyone releases expertly crafted, thrilling solos. Five tunes in, “Elephant Memory” takes its seesawing melodies to their zenith in a six-over-four pulse that’s as funky as it is head-warping. The sextet also covers “Harlem Nocturne” and “Cherokee,” the latter suffused with the steam coming off Charette’s viscous solo organ. The horns wrap around the tune, then disappear, returning us to a classic organ-trio vibe—although you’re only hearing a duo, with Brian Fishler on drums. Brian Charette continues to punch holes in the sky of jazz tradition.