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Published: 2009/07/19
by Jon Hayford

Big Organ Trio, Dulcineas 100th Monkey, Denver, CO – 7/3

Former New Groove of the Month winner, Big Organ Trio, just finished up their 2009 cross country tour on Americas birthday. Beginning in New Orleans, the tour swept up the Eastern Seaboard and curled back to culminate with a quick jaunt through the Colorado Rockies. Although they have favored the familiarity of the Western States on past excursions, the Los Angeles-based organ trio spread the good word as far a New York City before closing out the run in Denver.

How does an all instrumental power trio spread the word without singing a note?

The answer to that question lies in the surprisingly unique sound of an otherwise standard organ, bass, and drums format. The configuration is nothing new to the music world; however, Big Organ Trio recognizes this fact and dares music appreciators to ignore their distinctive, full throttle style that is prevalent throughout the live experience.

Youll find the sum of the parts are greater than the whole theory at work with this group even though each individual component more than holds its own. Bernie Bauer (bass) and Mark Banner (drums) form a vigorous rhythm section with a higher purpose than merely keeping time for Mike Mangan on Hammond B3 organ. Mangan’s style is more of an attack than an approach. Hes going all out on nearly every song using a wealth of tones from his customized rig. Mangan runs his Hammond through a wah pedal and this singular piece of the puzzle does wonders for the bands overall sound. At times, the wah pedal organ tone mimics an electric guitar with powerful, psychedelic screams to illuminate a given song in a manner so striking that you are surprised you havent heard it before.

The second to the last stop of the tour featured the band playing at Dulcineas in Denver. This modest venue was treated to two sets of music, which highlighted strong original material alongside wisely chosen cover tunes. Booker Ts Hip Hug Her started things out on the right foot and put the crowd on notice: this wasnt going to be a sit down show. The band then settled in with Play It Back, a Dr. Lonnie Smith composition with a relaxed pace. Early on, Bernie stepped out of the backing role and used a Theremin-like effect to quote The Sound of Music.

Now most live music fans enjoy hearing fun covers but a band aiming to make a name for themselves cannot rely on nostalgia or borrowed success from those that came before them. With one album under their belt and another on the way later this year, Big Organ Trio has crafted a collection of robust instrumentals that can stand on their own. Following a few nods to respected elders, Holy Roller was a glimpse at the bands abilities without the cover crutch. Roller is a roller, steadily moving along a melodic line without shifting into high gear as many of the trios songs do. Go For Broke segued into Clown Boy, two more BOT inventions that showcase their knack for energetic crowd pleasers. The haunted carnival ambiance of Clown Boy was entertaining and eerie all at once.

This was the second time the band had visited Dulcineas and the same pleasantly surprised expressions stared at the stage on both occasions. Speaking of which, out of left field came Radioheads Paranoid Android. The Benevento Russo Duo perform this number also and they have a penchant for sending signals to the edge of outer space (a quality that endears them to a loyal and fervent fan base). Big Organ Trios succinct version translates well in their three man format and touches on all of the relevant sections while revealing a heavier side to the band that had been hidden up to this point of the set. The dark and brooding mood was lifted with a deftly executed Pinball Number Count that brought the listeners back to the days of watching Sesame Street. The original song was composed for an animated sequence on the television show and Mangan recalled the vocals were handled by none other than The Pointer Sisters! Part jazz, part funk, the challenging time signatures betray the just a kids song label and no one could stifle a smile once they recognized it. The first set closed with The Rosemary Stretch, an arrangement that references the sound of 70s era jazz organ groups and left the applauding audience wanting more.

After a short break the band flew right out of the gates with one of their trademarks, Down and Dirty. Without question Down and Dirty symbolizes what this band is all about and likely that phrase is used by fans when describing a BOT show. Mangan gets after it with rapid karate chops that demonstrate an intimate knowledge of the beastly Hammond. He makes it look easy to casually stab at the keys to produce the percussive bursts, which are additionally augmented by the wah pedal work. Pick any random patron at the bar to attempt the same thing and the result wouldnt sound much different from a nervous cat walking down the keyboard. And what is a concert these days without the requisite Zeppelin cover? Big Organ Trio have added Whole Lotta Love to their repertoire and they pull it off nicely. Again, were treated to a heavy, rocking song that deviates from the rest of the catalog in a good way. Robert Walter understands the virtue of adding a rock cover to an otherwise jazzy and funked out setlist and BOT have studiously continued the practice.

The second set touched on Miles Davis (Black Satin) and the Meters (Pungee) as well as more originals, all of which fell in line cohesively to provide a comprehensive performance. It speaks volumes about a band when the audience is able to feel like they are witnessing something complete and not just a smattering of music from random genres. Thus is the art of setlist composition and song selection. If an instrumental group can write a hook that youll be humming on the way home you can chalk that up as a significant accomplishment and Birkenstock Bandit has one of those refrains. As the evening drew to a close, the band tipped their hat to two more influences with Jimmy McGriffs Groove Grease and Jimi Hendrixs Manic Depression. The version of Groove Grease began with the standard arrangement yet rose to unexpected heights. Its a happy-go-lucky tune reflecting on the simplicity of old school soul; however, BOT has taken the liberty of updating it with a vicious jam section. The night ended with Manic Depression and it would have made Jimi proud. Mangan had the Leslie spinning furiously as he played this classic with liberal use of the wah pedal, much to the delight of all in attendance. Although Mark Banner hasnt been mentioned much in this review he deserves a special mention for his replication of Mitch Mitchells heavy-handed swing so crucial for any drummer taking on this song.

Its worth repeating; this isnt a standard organ trio. These guys are out to prove their brand of organ, bass, and drums is compelling and deserves your attention. They are a band that has the potential to attract even those fans that do not normally prefer a set of all instrumental music. By choosing appropriate and thrilling covers while composing original material that speaks for itself, Big Organ Trio is a band of immeasurable possibilities.

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