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Chester Thompson: Powerhouse (Black Jazz/Real Gone)

A review of the Hammond organ specialist’s reissued 1971 debut

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Chester Thompson: Powerhouse
The cover of Powerhouse by Chester Thompson.

Before he started a 1973-83 association with Tower of Power, and a subsequent 26-year run with Santana through 2009, keyboardist Chester Thompson did something that’s still a rarity for him: releasing a solo album. Powerhouse was the Oklahoma-born Hammond organ specialist’s 1971 debut, also featuring saxophonist Rudy Johnson, trombonist Al Hall, and drummer Raymond Pounds, and its recent reissue deserves fresh ears 50 years later.

One reason is the musical diplomacy shown by Thompson, who only takes a turn in the spotlight after Johnson and Hall play harmonized lines and get first solo dibs on the opening “Mr. T.” Perhaps giving Johnson the leadoff break was payback for his previous hiring of the fledgling Thompson for his own trio in Oklahoma; the group toured in the late ’60s through the San Francisco Bay Area, where Thompson would eventually relocate and find his two star associations.

The subsequent “Trip One” is likewise in the straight-ahead vein despite the wattage of Thompson, the quartet’s only electric instrumentalist. Johnson again leads off with a lengthy, memorable break before handing the baton to Hall, who takes a more measured and spacious approach. Throughout, both in his chording and solo, Thompson showcases his ever-musical blend of church upbringing and jazz influence, often eschewing left-hand bass lines because his groove is a powerful enough undercurrent without them.

“Weird Harold” follows the theme of introducing intertwined horn lines before an opening Johnson statement, albeit in a more funk/R&B mode that anticipates Tower of Power’s hiring Thompson after hearing him play at a San Francisco club. The closing title track (that’s right, only four cuts totaling 27 minutes; this was the LP era, remember) does likewise in a decelerated, strutting fashion, again signaling powerful things to come in Thompson’s near future.

Learn more about Powerhouse on Amazon!