Pianist/Hammond B3 player Bruce Katz mines the informed equidistance between organ trio and modal jazz and contemporary urban blues. This produces a tough-minded music that’s gutsy, emotional, and played with real intelligence and technique. Katz also achieves an effortless hipness by never trying to be hip – really the only way to manage that. He and his band aren’t attempting to reinvent the wheel with “Transformation,” but they’re extending a tradition that includes jazz players like David Newman and Red Holloway, funk groups like the Meters and theTowerofPower, and Katz’s blues contemporary Ron Levy. It’s music that smart non-jazz people will enjoy, and that serious jazz fans will respect and listen to.
“Chicago Transformation” has the familiar “Born in Chicago” riff as its base, over which Katz layers chords that extend past the 7th used in most blues. He alternates between modal phrases, snatches of gospel, and traditional Chicago blues. Guitarist Kevin Barry adds an effective vocalized solo. Switching to Hammond B3, Katz sets up a tough minded “Boppin’ Out of the Abyss.” His organ soloing doesn’t owe much to discernible influences. He’s versed in organ trio funk, but he plays with a velocity and freedom that seldom find their way into the idiom. Drummer Lorne Entress flies convincingly through his solo while an ostinato is maintained below. “Circular Notion” is a slightly dizzying number that might have found its way into the Blue Note catalogue toward the very late ’60s, hard swinging, sharply played. Persuasive from start to finish, Transformation serves as a good introduction to the work of a topnotch musician working an established vein in a particularly creative and ambitious way.