Keith Oxman ‘East of the Village’ (Capri) 5/5

The history of the Hammond organ trio in jazz is a long and illustrious one.  Here the Hammond B3 is given pride of place. This is fitting as it was the most popular model being in production between 1954 and 1974. This neatly coincided with its popularity with jazz musicians as exemplified by Jimmy Smith on his recording ‘The Champ’ from 1956. Since falling out of favour in the 1970’s it has gradually regained popularity to the point where some now consider it to be the second most popular keyboard instrument after the piano.
From gaining a foothold in jazz, the instrument became popular in rhythm and blues, and later rock and progressive rock music, not to mention ska and reggae. Jazz organists of the calibre of Barbara Dennerlein and Joey DeFrancesco have continued to fly the flag for the instrument well into the 21st century.
Although under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman, there is inevitably an equal focus upon organist Jeff Jenkins. The duo are ably supported by Todd Reid at the drums.
Oxman is a native of Denver and first picked up a tenor saxophone at the age of 12. His C.V includes work with Art Blakey, Max Roach, Sonny Stitt and the Buddy Rich Big Band.

For his ninth release on Capri records, Oxman brings us a mix of original compositions and some lesser-known ‘standards’. The material is complemented by the undoubted ability of the musicians. Oxman possesses a well-rounded sound, agile technique and a thorough knowledge of the hard-bop jazz tradition. Plus he can swing. Oxman prefers to think of the trio as a co-operative endeavour and they have shared histories which stretch back for more than fifteen years.

There are ten tracks on the album and the opener is the comparatively rarely played composition of Jule Styne, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ which is a brisk swinger and some readers may remember that it was sung by Marilyn Monroe in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blonds’.

The album’s title track, a composition from Hank Mobley is next. The following track ‘Deep in a Dream’ is another lesser-known standard and shows the tender side of Oxman’s musical persona and we get great brush-work from Todd Reid too.

Next is a real obscurity, ‘Breeze (Blow my Baby Back to Me)’. A Vaudeville-era song which was recorded by Jim Reeves.

The original compositions fit into the programme well. ‘A Vaunt Guard’ allows drummer Reid to shine and there is a tribute to fellow saxophonist Wayne Shorter in the form of ‘The Shorter Route’.

A favourite track for me is Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Lucky to be Me’. Very tender playing all round.

The set concludes with George Gershwin’s ‘(I’ve Got) Beginners Luck’. For those of you who enjoy musical trivia, this song was introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film ‘Shall We Dance?’ but sadly overshadowed by some of the film’s better-known songs.

This is a completely enjoyable album throughout, made even better by the clever choice of unhackneyed standard tunes. Make a date to spend an hour in the presence of the Keith Oxman Trio and you won’t be disappointed.

Alan Musson