Now, after all this time, Witzel has released Feelin’ It, a guitar-B3-drums trio with Brian Ho on the Hammond B3 and Jason Lewis on drums. The B-3 format has been a favorite of Witzel’s for a long time and this album shows Wizel and friends cutting loose on this format and the songs that highlight the format. Those songs include three originals from Witzel and other covers that range from John Lennon to the Gershwins to Lerner & Loewe. For his originals, Witzel brings tenor saxophonist Dann Zinn who has played with…well, everybody.
Zinn appears on the opening tune, the Witzel original and title track, Feelin’ It. The tune is like the straight-up Jazz of the 1960s and Witzel, Zinn, and Brian Ho make this into a lively, even vivacious, work of great fun and fascination. Lewis’ drumming is equally straight-up and he is worthy of great attention. The composition is great and well-structured for the romp of the artists’ contributions.
Beyond Beijing was written after jamming on a Chinese train ride. Witzel’s playing is captivating and sweetly melodic. Zinn’s tenor sax adds to the warmth and depth of the piece. The back and forth of guitar and tenor sax is delightful while the B3 and drums keep things moving ahead steadily. Then Ms. Information was, according to Witzel, inspired by Wayne Shorter and you can hear it but in Witzel and Zinn’s own vocabularies. That is the brilliance of Jim Witzel who can pay tribute but without rank imitation. He speaks with his own voice.
That is repeatedly proven with the covers he chose, beginning with the classic Romberg & Hammerstein tune Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise. The organ trio is masterful in their reinvention of this remarkable piece. The same is true in Nat Adderly’s The Old Country, the 1990 composition, but instead of Adderly and Vince Herring in partnership, Witzel and Ho form the formidable pair. And they make it work beautifully. Then the Gershwins’ I Loves You, Porgy gives way to the warm and melancholic. Closer to the Miles Davis version than the original light opera of the Gershwin brothers, Witzel focuses on the beauty of the piece, rather than the tragedy.
But my favorite covers are Lerner & Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You from 1960’s Camelot. While Robert Goulet (then Franco Nero in the movie version) sang it longingly, with an ample heaping of sappiness, Witzel turns it into a cool samba as B3 and drums keep the Brasilian rhythms in sweet swing. And then there is John Lennon’s Norwegian Wood. It is lusher than the Beatles’ original and without the tongue-in-cheek delivery of John and the boys. The focus here is on the brilliant melody that is so extremely well-suited to this style of guitar artistry and the lilting of the B3 and sway of drums. Witzel’s guitar approach almost evokes the sitar. It may not be an improvement on the Beatles but it is certainly a marvelous Jazz reinvention.
Jim Witzel’s Feelin’ It makes you do just that. You feel these originals and reimagining of covers. The organ trio is an excellent format to give the change and lift of these covers and perfectly suited to Witzel’s originals. This is an album worth pursuing.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl