Truly the crowning masterwork in a stylistically expansive, multi-genre career as a sideman and recording artist, James Gaiters Soul Revival’s debut album Understanding Reimagined finds the veteran drummer mining the still empowering magic of the classic Hammond B-3 organ trio vibe in fresh and focused ways.
Instead of simply paying general homage to Blue Note legend Big John Patterson, Gaiter and his alternately slow burning and hard swinging, relentlessly soulful, funky and hipster crew of saxophonist Eddie Bayard, guitarist Kevin Turner and organist Robert Mason turn their intuitive re-imagining powers to a single recording – Understanding, Patterson’s eighth for the label.
Patterson left us physically 20 years ago, but his spirit, energy and, most pertinently, soul are very much alive on these engaging twists that are anchored by Gaiter’s percussive versatility but thrive as a showcase for each members’ melodic, harmonic and improvisational brilliance. The set begins with a funked out, hard bustling and confidently strutting boogaloo tinged “Ding Dong” before angling into an exotic West Indian beat and moody atmosphere for a take on “Soul Man” that renders the Sam & Dave original delightfully unrecognizable.
The quartet’s ability to bring an important part of soul/jazz history to the present also allows us to re-experience compositions by greats like Sonny Rollins (a burning romp through “Alfie’s Theme,” highlighted by Bayard’s punch and Mason’s fast rolling chords) and Kenny Burrell (the slow as molasses, ultra-hypnotic and dazzlingly irresistible ballad “Chitlins Con Carne.”
Their muscular, hard bustling, straight ahead with lots of twists and turns version of the sole Patterson original “Congo Chant” makes an excellent coda to a remarkable set. Here’s hoping that this Soul Revival is not just a one time affair. Also, anyone seeking historical context for what they’re hearing here will enjoy the extremely detailed liner notes by Dr. Ted McDaniel of Ohio State University.