There's something eternally cool and otherworldly about the sound of a Hammond B-3 organ. Instantly identifiable and soaked with a distinct atmosphere, the whirling and fat sounds of the vintage keyboard jump out from any recording or performance. Lauren Hammond's invention has imbued records from across the spectrum, from rockers such as the Allman Brothers, Deep Purple and Santana to the funky Meters to jazzmen like Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson and Jack McDuff. Though the classic B-3 ceased production in 1975, it still has a cult following, and new jazz artists like Medeski, Martin, and Wood and John Scofield are leading a new wave of interest in the organ.
Houston's versatile funk jazz band Drop Trio perfectly synthesizes this fresh approach, using the instrument as its prime musical source on Big Dipper's 12 instrumentals. Members Ian Varley (Hammond organ, Rhodes piano), drummer Mike Blattel and bassist Nino Batista somehow mix and merge a cacophony of notes into an utterly pleasing soundtrack. From the rhythmic work on "Second First" and "Lefty's Alone" to the funkier "Invisible Pants" and "Flux," there's space both for soloing and playing together. As a nod to the instrument's '70s heyday, there's "Wallawalla" (which could easily make the soundtrack for a Fat Albert cartoon) and "Gin & Nothin'." All three players are crack instrumentalists and elicit top-notch groovin' material, and Varley is as adept on the Rhodes as he is with the Hammond.
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Batista's bass does get hidden a bit on most tracks, and Varley and Blattel seem to be on an entirely different musical plane. Whether the muted bass was by design or accident, they should increase the low-end fatback for their next release. Nevertheless, Big Dipper makes for a great instrumental record, one with a fresh approach to a classic sound. Here's a "jazz" record with solid crossover appeal, even to those who don't know Thelonious Monk from Thelonious Monster.