Big Organ Trio
With a name like Big Organ Trio, there isn’t all that much left up to the imagination in discerning the band’s composition. This month’s New Groove of the Month’s is much of what you would think; three musicians led by the sensationally swirling sounds of the Hammond B3 organ and grounded by a thick, hard-rocking and funky rhythm section. While the three-piece jazz-funk set-up does offer a certain familiarity in the music scene of the last few decades, the B.O.T. sound enjoys a certain futuristic quality. Decidedly smooth while occasionally chaotic, the Mike Mangan-led cavalry capably creates soundscapes that diverge from the traditional norm, coalescing with both grace and power, producing sonically saturated textures seemingly too full to be played by just three musicians. This isn’t your standard jazz trio.
Mangan, along with cohorts Bernie Bauer (bass) and Brett McConnell (drums) have helped to revitalize a fusion scene that’s laid relatively dormant for a few years now. While there are bands like Soulive that keep things alive on the jazzy funk tip, there has remained a need for something new. BOT capitalizes on a sound much more rock than jazz, more fire than ice. While Jimmy Smith may be recognized somewhere along the way, Jimi Hendrix seems to hang around more often.
Jambands caught up with Big Organ Trio’s Hammond B3’er Mike Mangan over the weekend while the band was gearing up (and then leaving) this year’s 10,000 Lakes Festival in Minnesota to touch base on winning our Jambands Readers Poll, the “pocket,” traditional trios and the scene as a whole.
CC: How would you say B.O.T. stacks up to Jazz Fusion Trios from last decade?
MM: We think B.O.T. brings a completely unique approach to the world of jazz/fusion trios. First, B.O.T. utilizes only a vintage Hammond B3 organ and Leslie, electric bass and drums, unlike any other recent trio from the last decade that we can think of. As of now, we use no other keyboards or guitars to achieve our sonic output. Second, we have always considered ourselves more of a funk/rock power trio than a jazz or fusion trio, although we certainly borrow elements from jazz, blues, and fusion. Certain customized tone manipulation on the Hammond and bass has afforded us the ability to reach the intensity of a rock band when we want to. We believe our love for the intensity of rock music helps push us in a direction most other organ trios wouldn't go. Lastly, we really wanted this band to unfold naturally. Each member has brought musical influences to the table that have combined to form a unique style of playing and songwriting. You will get tunes from us that range from Hendrix-like power to older school sounding jazz and blues.
CC: Why was Big Organ Trio poised to win our reader’s poll? What innate qualities does the band possess to help garner such an overwhelming and widespread response?
MM: The response we have gotten has been truly inspiring for us. We now have over 50,000 MySpace friends as well as a vast email list, including many fans overseas. This vast network of people, and our ability to contact them directly via today's internet technology, has helped us tremendously. A huge amount of fans were happy to go vote and tell their friends which contributed to us winning the poll. It's really hard to tell why some people like a certain kind of music, but we think that if you stay true to what you love to do, you will find your fanbase. This is really what we have tried to do; just play the music we love and play it with everything we've got. We also know that the Hammond organ is an instrument loved around the world for its' uniqueness, and we think having that as a featured instrument will instantly get fans of the organ interested in the band, or to at least give the band a listen.
CC: How did you get involved with Velour Records? That’s a pretty nice musical friend to have in your corner.
MM: Velour actually approached us. They wanted to release our debut album in Japan. Due, in part, to their past experience with successfully releasing Soulive albums, they knew that organ trios find a fertile market there. Our album was released in Japan on July 4, 2007 through Velour's Japanese distributor, P-Vine Records. P-Vine is sending us on a tour of Japan in November in support of the album release. Everyone at Velour has been great in helping us spread our music.
CC: The album is very impressive, especially for three players and really no extra gadgets. Tell me a little bit more about it, what the B.O.T. sound is like in the studio setting, and how do you plan to translate that explosiveness into an album?
MM: The debut album was recorded live with the whole trio together in the same room in an attempt to achieve a more organic vibe. The main tracking sessions were finished in 2 days with overdubs done on the sax/flute, guitar and percussion at a later date. The entire recording process was completed in the analog domain in order to capture that 'old-school' warmth while accentuating the sound of the vintage instruments. The album was also mastered on analog tape at The Mastering Lab in L.A. on one of the very first mastering systems ever.
As far as our performance, we had limited time in the studio. We made sure to chop our songs a bit from their normal elongated live versions to make them fit into the album format. We also made sure to rehearse a lot and fine tune some of the details in the songs. This way we were prepared to go into the studio for only 2 days and get the best performances possible. However, we did make sure to get loose on the days of the recordings. Since all of the tunes contain improvisational elements, we wanted to make sure the songs didn't sound over-rehearsed and that they retained their live and spontaneous feel. This can be a tricky balance to find for this kind of music, so we made sure to keep all of these things in mind during the whole pre-production and recording process.
CC: I’ve noticed that Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame has made a few guest appearances with the band. How did you meet Emerson and cultivate this relationship?
MM: This was truly a great honor. I have idolized Keith Emerson since I was a kid. One of Keith's friends caught a couple shows at our monthly residency in Santa Monica, CA, and apparently told Keith about what we were doing. After checking out our YouTube videos and website, Keith showed up! He was a great guy, and ended up sitting in with the band on several songs. Keith and I stood behind my B3 and traded solos. It was great fun. Keith also showed up the next month and sat in again. Emerson had mentioned that he really liked that fact we were staying true to the vintage Hammond, but actually doing something different with it. We have also had the honor of sharing the stage with Melvin Seals from the Jerry Garcia Band, Leo Nocentelli from the Meters, Particle, and The New Mastersounds to name a few. We also just finished playing 10,000 Lakes Festival, which was an unbelievable experience with many amazing bands.
CC: At times over the last several years, friends and colleagues and I have gotten into conversations were certain folks continue to add that most trios are lacking that certain ‘umph.’ Big Organ Trio doesn’t. How has the band achieved that missing ‘umph’ factor?
MM: A big focus of this band from the beginning has been to achieve that 'umph.' Unlike the 'classic' organ trio of years past where the organist would cover bass lines, we utilize an electric bass, which gives us a lot more power, volume, and definition, much like a rock power trio. We do, however, also give a nod to the old school format, where I'll play bass, and the electric bass takes a solo or melody. This has turned out to be great fun and has enabled us to further expand the dynamics of this format. This, in addition to my customized Hammond, puts us sonically on the level of any guitar based band or quartet. We have put in a lot of effort to achieve this, not only in the studio, but in a live setting as well.
CC: Being the Big Organ Trio that you are, how does a big organ solo or lead compare to the more traditional rock guitar solo?
MM: This is a very good question, and very important to Big Organ Trio's approach. I actually have to admit that, in many ways, I am more influenced by electric guitar players than by other organists or pianists. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix definitely top my list of favorite players, and I have really tried to emulate that same sonic power on the B3 organ. This mindset has led to an effort to beef up the tone of the vintage Hammond organ beyond what has been done in the past. I also use a lot of wah pedal with the Hammond, which has really seemed to open up new guitar-like tonal territories and different approaches to soloing on the organ. The band has actually nicknamed my rig 'The Guitorgan.' If you look at the history of jazz organ, you'll find that guys like Jimmy Smith really tried to play like horn players, and that Richard "Groove" Holmes listened to bass players more than anything else. Even greats like Beethoven would often tell pianists to listen to great vocalists or horn players to achieve a different perspective while playing their own instrument. Emulating a different instrument on your instrument is not a new concept, but has often yielded some great innovative creativity throughout music history.
CC: Give me a glimpse into the current state of the L.A. and left coast music scene? Discuss vibe and interesting tidbits of the underground music scene on left coast that outsiders may not be aware of.
MM: The L.A. music scene has been steadily growing and improving recently with some up-and-coming bands achieving some attention. There finally seems to be a sense of community among the local bands, with everyone pitching in to try and kick-start the scene in L.A. San Francisco also has been very kind to us, and has afforded us the opportunity to play some bigger shows with more well known bands. We've performed recently as part of the Green Apple Festival in SF with The New Mastersounds, as well as past shows at the Fillmore Jazz Festival and the Great American Music Hall with Melvin Seals and JGB. The band has plans in the works to make it up to the Pacific Northwest for shows later this year.
CC: The Big Organ Trio has recently been self-coined as the, "Organ trio for the new millennium." Please explain.
MM: We all grew up exposed to many different styles of music, ranging from hip-hop to rock to funk to jazz to blues to classical. Just by virtue of this alone, we naturally have tried to incorporate all of those different influences into our music. We also have a great desire to take the Hammond organ, and the organ trio format, in a slightly different direction than what has been done in the past. We believe this drive also helps us push the organ trio format into the new millennium. Hopefully we can do our part within the long lineage of organ trios to expose future generations to the endless musical possibilities of this instrument and line-up.