Hammond B-3 organist Carey Frank has performed regularly with Bob Mintzer and several groups of his own. And then there is Bob Sheppard, that phenomenal reeds man who has been with Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, the Brecker Brothers, Peter Erskine, Steely Dan and so many others. Sheppard is only on the tenor sax for this album. Drummer Ben Scholz has been in the line-ups of Roy Hargrove, Esperanza Spalding, Buddy Guy, and Aaron Neville. This is Doug’s third organ-group album.
Organisms is comprised of 10 tracks—seven standards and three originals from Doug. The album’s opener is Sammy Cahn’s great piece, It’s You or No One. For the first several measures, it is Doug and Ben Scholz together before being joined by Frank’s Hammond. It’s a great warm-up piece as the quartet works over the well-known—but not well-worn—piece. We’re immediately reminded why we like Doug’s work.
Jazz for All Occasions is one of the MacDonald originals and follows with a sweet intro from the whole quartet but with Doug and Sheppard clearly out front. Sheppard makes you sit up and take notice but do not lose sight of what is going on with Frank and Scholz. Doug’s guitar work is tight and clean.
L&T starts off with some odd melodic lines being traded between guitar and tenor sax, particularly, but then the quartet gets into the full swing. This was fun stuff going on here. I dig the way Frank picks up during one of Doug’s sustained fade-aways.
Nina Never Knew/Indian Summer is a very short (1:58) two-part medley and Doug takes it all on with cool solo guitar. He never disappoints. He carries that right into Sometime Ago before being joined by the organ and drums. Sheppard takes a seat on this piece and leaves it for the trio.
Poor Butterfly is another solo guitar piece and returns that sweet approach from Doug of the pick-strum-pick-strum. He makes these pieces bend to his will.
Centerpiece kicks off with Scholz’s drum chops. Then Doug and Sheppard come aboard with Frank and this swings so fine it belongs on your grandmother’s porch. It’s that bluesy and cool song from Harry “Sweets” Edison and Jon Hendricks. Love the ending that features Sheppard’s tenor sax on the outro.
Doug’s solo guitar is the opening feature of Too Late Now by Buston Lane and Lana Lerner. Then Sheppard steps forward with that wonderful tenor sax that actually mirrors a bit of what Doug was doing, that run-walk-walk, and then Frank does the same. Sheppard proves why he is in such high demand.
Doug solos again on Hortense. He has proven before that he can work without a net as he solos. Man, he is good. But he saves the longer pieces for the whole quartet.
And that’s how they close out the album with Isham Jones and Gus Khan’s On the Alamo. It’s got everybody looking good as they take their final spotlights. Listen to Scholz’s straight-up swing behind all the cool leads. Sheppard and Frank take their appropriate bows from the generous Doug.
Organisms is rightly named. It is four individual artists who are brilliant—even viable—on their own but they make up something extraordinary together. They maintain their own orbit in Doug’s gravitational pull. This is a splendid quartet of guitar, organ, sax, and drums. They trade leads over Scholz’s swing and it just works.
And at the center of it all is Doug MacDonald, the artist who can compose, arrange, and perform exactly the vision he sees before him and find the colleagues to make it happen with him.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl