Primed for summer, Shimmy feels like a soundtrack for a clambake, a series of jazzy organ-and-drum duets that are as fizzy and cool as a lime rickey. Billy Martin is the innovative, inveterate timekeeper for Medeski, Martin and Wood; Blades is a young Bay Area keyboardist who can lay down a groove with froth or sizzle, or, as indicated by his stint with the late blues legend John Lee Hooker, nestle down deep in the cut. Martin and Blades performed a one-off gig at the 2011 Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans that blossomed so fruitfully and organically that the pair subsequently organized a small tour, and then entered the studio for Shimmy.
There are a couple of overt nods to the band led by organist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris in the 60s. “Mean Greens” covers a Harris tune with that group’s toe-tapping elan–by turns funky and fleet, spongey and syncopated, and low-down and growling. And “Les and Eddie,” penned by Blades, is a kindred spirit to the track “Cold Duck Time” from McCann and Harris’s iconic live album, Swiss Movement. The other cover is an extended take on the traditional clap-along gospel rouser, “Down By the Riverside.”
But the best material is the duo’s jam-inspired originals, from the profound jive of the opener, “Brother Bru,” to the scalding intensity of “Deep in a Fried Pickle,” with Blades doubling on clavinet for a workout that feels like Traffic (the old Stevie Winwood/Dave Mason supergroup) approaching heavy metal. By contrast, “Pick Pocket” is playfully airy and agile; “Toe Thumb” finds Blades syncopating on clavinet like Stevie Wonder on “Higher Ground” while Martin adds a tambourine to the drum licks; and “Give” is an atmospheric near-ballad set off by cymbal washes, bells and some Latin percussion. Fill the ice buckets, stoke the grill and get ready to Shimmy.