Adam Klipple puts pizzazz in the soul-jazz
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., May 17, 2002) – It’s not always easy to make an original statement in a genre as strongly prescribed or circumscribed as soul-jazz, particularly in a band led by a keyboardist. There hasn’t been much in the way of progress in that style and on that instrument since Jimmy Smith canonized it in the 1960s.

Not that that hasn’t stopped a whole host of young musicians who, perhaps inspired by the artistic and commercial success of John Medeski and Joey DeFrancesco, comprise a veritable flood of organists applying themselves to the now-classic style. Adam Klipple is one of these, and on the basis of his eponymous CD and the first of two sets at Club Helsinki on Thursday night with his quartet, Drive-By Leslie, he shows great tenacity and imagination, exploring the style from various angles and approaches in order to plumb its innermost depths and possibilities.

For starters, Klipple comes equipped with not one but three keyboards: a Hammond B-3 organ, a Fender Rhodes and a Wurlitzer. And he doesn’t just play one at a time. He expands the tonal palette of any particular number by mixing and matching all three, sometimes playing one with the right hand and the other with the left, lending a wider dimensionality and enhanced texture to the band’s sound.

The band’s guitarist laid down a five-note pattern on “Spanky Adam,” around which Klipple laced drippy chords. Some of his unusual chordal modulations echoed Donald Fagen’s mid-‘70s work with Steely Dan, but the guitarist’s responses to those were much more fusiony and abstract than Walter Becker’s ever were. At the end of the B section, all four instrumentalists played a bebop arpeggio in unison – not an easy task, especially considering that the drummer was sitting in with the band for the very first time.

In its inverted melody and dark resolves, “Pathology” lived up to its title and its evocation of classic bebop. The theme’s three-chord figure landed on a dark, almost dissonant note. Klipple’s gauzy piano solo was constructed of licks so repetitive they were like the musical equivalent of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, with flashes of insight any time the pattern varied. Midway through the tune, the band broke it down and the rhythm section took over with a drum ‘n’ bass pattern that transformed the feel of the tune into ambient electronica, with splashes of bright keys and shattering, single-note bebop lines on guitar.

A few numbers weren’t quite as challenging. A new one was built upon a simple blues-funk foundation, with a melody that owed more to George Benson than Jimmy Smith. And while “Home Cooking” was definitely Southern-fried, it had all the catchiness and none of the ingenuity of the theme song to “Sanford and Son.”

“Morning” was an impressionistic ballad, with the guitarist feathering a bed of color with his slide, answered by angelic keyboard atop a walking bass line and dashes of percussion on cymbals and heads. “Zabloom” featured a virtuosic bass guitar solo in which the tone of the bass sounded like “zabloom,” and the band closed the first set in a fury of group improvisation.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 18, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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