Sixty years ago, every urban neighborhood had a jazz lounge, sometimes several of them. The more gutbucket ones often had a house Hammond organ. The funky, catchy style that kept the area around them awake at night is what organist Akiko Tsuruga has made a career out of. If you’re a Dr. Lonnie Smith fan, or if jazz in general is your party music, her latest album Equal Time – streaming at the band’s music page – is your jam.
Her bandmates are a good fit for the material. Guitarist Graham Dechter is a purist in the Wes Montgomery/Barney Kessel vein, and drummer Jeff Hamilton swings hard, yet subtly, just as much at home here as he is pushing his own big band with bassist John Clayton.
The opening track, Mag’s Groove is a swing blues, Dechter throwing off an expertly expansive, Montgomery-ish solo, Tsuruga shifting between pulsing twinkle and rivers of smoke. The trio switch to a sleek jump blues groove for Dechter’s Orange Coals, its understated rhythmic shifts and jaunty guitar/organ tradeoffs.
Tsuruga’s Osaka Samba has a wryly surreal cheer, Dechter dancing above Hamilton’s fleet-fingered brushes on the snare and cymbals. They reinvent the churchy call-and-response of Hank Mobley’s A Baptist Beat as a more lithely swinging take on prime-era Meters, then make organ jazz out of John Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice, with its sly turn-on-a-dime shifts.
The trio dim the lights for the slow-dance groove and wide-angle vibrato of Lion’s Gate, picking up the pace with a tightly swinging, Jimmy Smith-esque take of I Remember You and Hamilton’s nimble New Orleans flourishes. They close the album with Steve Allen’s This Could Be the Start of Something Big, a launching pad for Dechter’s oldschool leaps and bubbles, Tsuruga’s jaunty roller-rink phrasing and tradeoffs with Hamilton. Tsuruga gets good New York gigs when she’s on tour; let’s hope that someday this city will be a place she can play again.