Friday, April 04, 2008

Akiko Tsuruga – Sweet and Funky (18th and Vine, 2007)

Organist Tsuruga grinds the old school jazz organ like a veteran of the smoky bars of Newark, so it is no wonder the likes of Lou Donaldson have employed her. And just like it says on the tin, things here are a sweet and funky mix of hard bop, blues and ballads. She is joined on this LP by guitarist Eric Johnson, drummer Vince Ector and percussionist Wilson "Chembo" Corniel. The roaring “Meanie Queenie” leads things off in fine style, with hard charging drums and percussion pushing the organ forward. Ditto the grinding “DLG” with some swinging guitar added to the mix. The title track “Sweet and Funky” slows things down to a medium simmer, featuring a nicely paced guitar solo. The standard “Stormy Weather” takes things on a mellow, melodic turn, before “Saving All My Love For You” goes for the pop end of the spectrum with a bright and shiny if somewhat superficial performance. More pop is found on “Where is the Love” and while you can't fault the band for trying to get some mainstream recognition, these are the two weakest and most unchallenging cuts on this album. The standard “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” is taken at a solid and percussive med-tempo, before the band gets back into the grinding organ groove, ending with nice uptempo performances on “Mishi-Mishi” and “Broadway.” This was a solid album of organ centered jazz by a talented band. While the poppier cuts didn't really appeal to me, the band's execution of the “grits and gravy” traditional jazz organ sound was spot on and very enjoyable.

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