Hammond organ master Brian Charette leads a spirited, driving trio on Square One, his relatively straight-ahead and winning debut on the American label Posi-Tone. The Question That Drives Us, on the Danish label SteepleChase, features a Charette sextet of unusual voicings on a more complex and worldly outing. Each CD reflects different facets of Charette, a restless composer, arranger and sonic colorist who leverages the B-3’s musical palette with zest and aplomb.
Not that the music Charette plays on Square One is simple-minded, but it is compact and purposeful, deployed for maximum drama. In fact, it ranges wide and goes deep, from the neo-soul-jazz of “Aaight!” to the melodic, shimmering ballad “True Love” and the sharp, witty “Things You Don’t Mean,” a hypnotically rhythmic track with a sci-fi flair that sets up the free, gnarly finale, “Ten Bars for Eddie Harris.” Sparked by the guitar of Yotam Silberstein, who is as much of a sonic adventurer as Charette, and Mark Ferber, whose knowing drumming spans second-line and electronica-informed rhythms, Square One blends originals with a sharp, boppish take on Joe Henderson’s “If” and a spare, respectful rendition of “Ease Back,” a 1969 Meters tune that never loses its pop and snap. Charette’s band, no matter the format, has fun. While this is serious music-making by instrumentalists who know their way around all kinds of styles, it’s music to be enjoyed and even danced to rather than studied.
If Square One is tight and fierce, The Question is easily as disciplined but perhaps more conversational. Bracketed by the slouchy, clever “Blazinec” (note how the tune deconstructs then gets itself back together) and a take on Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” that affirms Charette’s bop bona fides, The Question features Itai Kriss on flute, Mike DiRubbo on alto saxophone, Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone, John Ellis on bass clarinet, Charette on B-3 and Jochen Rueckert on drums.
The title tune is a kind of round. “Answer Me” is a funny, funky tune built around the notion of dialogue, the calls shifting slightly to evoke slightly shifting responses. “Svichkova,” like “Blazenic,” seems a kind of character study, Charette’s B-3 serving as the narrator of the story. “5th Base” is a cinematic neighborhood prowl; Rueckert’s ride cymbal ushers in a smoky Ellis bass clarinet turn.
There isn’t a weak tune on this album, which ends upbeat with three accelerating tracks: the bubbly “Denge Merenge,” the smooth, creamy “I Came So Far to See You” and the Parker classic. No matter the style on the SteepleChase disc, its cuts bristle with cleverness and personality. Charette has assembled a sextet equal to any task he sets, a group that can raise the roof while it blows your mind. Subtly.