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Charles Earland Tribute Band: Keepers of the Flame

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Organist Charles Earland, who died in December 1999, was known as “The Mighty Burner.” The intensity of his swing resembled that of the late Art Blakey on drums. An exponent of soul-jazz, Earland was a master of the organ’s foot pedals. His band, usually two or three horns plus guitar and drums, conveyed a big, kicking ensemble sound.

The Charles Earland Tribute Band steps in without letdown where the organist left off. With Joey DeFrancesco in the organ seat and five former sidemen from Earland’s band aboard, this album swings hard, with conviction and intelligence. Drummer Vincent Ector organized the group, which features trumpeter James Rotondi, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and guitarist Bob DeVos (alternating with Pat Martino). Percussionist Kevin Jones, a nonalum, appears on four of the eight tracks.

Three well-known hits from the ’70s-“Deja Vu” (originally sung by Dionne Warwick), “The Closer I Get to You” (originally sung by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway) and the Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces”-recall Earland’s ability to find his own jazz groove on pop material. Both hornmen, members of the organist’s final group, sizzle especially well on “Pick Up the Pieces.”

Martino, a member of Earland’s first organ group and the most famous participant on the album, performs on three cuts. His “On the Stairs” is a challenging original that each soloist successfully conquers.

DeFrancesco, who initiated the current jazz-organ renaissance a decade ago, suggests Earland without slavishly imitating him. His solos are a bit busier than were Earland’s, but his ensemble sound is perfect.

The arrangements, uncredited, deserve special mention for their full-sounding harmonies and rhythmic punch.