Let's start with a full disclosure as I experience the enthusiastic energy that comes from listening to a collection as fun, frolicsome, musically and harmonically inventive and jamming as Jocelyn Michelle’s new Live at Viva Cantina. I’m a closet organ junkie who can’t get enough of the Hammond B-3, whether I’m groovin’ to Booker T, Keith Emerson and Billy Preston or Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco. Not since I was blown away by German organist Barbara Dennerlein in the early 90s have I been this whipped up into a frenzy by a female master of this classic instrument.
Alternating soulful lead melodies, brisk harmony lines and blistering solos, Michelle leads a lively band of musicians from her former home of L.A. and current residence on Hawaii’s Big Island – including saxophonists Bill Noble and Steve Mann, trumpeters Andrea Lindborg and Tony Farrell and her husband, electric guitarist John Rack.
With a foundation of six tracks from her previous studio album Time to Play, the organist swings and simmers through fresh, vibrant arrangements of oft-heard pop classics (“Last Tango in Paris,” “The Pink Panther Theme,” “The Look of Love,” “Groovin’,” “One Note Samba”) and four compelling originals, including the feisty ten minute homage to legendary recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder “Englewood Cliffs” and the delightfully breezy “Oh No, Could I Be In Love,” sung with grace and vulnerability by guest vocalist Laura Dickinson.
Normally, one might not think of a Mexican restaurant in Burbank (now called Viva Rancho Cantina) as a hotspot for burning jazz, but Jocelyn Michelle and company turned it into one that one magical night.