The Los Angeles-based, Philly born and raised guitarist, Skip Heller, has been making records that have sent waves through the jazz underground for years. From 1998's Couch, Los Angeles to last year's Homegoing
, he's developed an approach that knows no boundaries--equally inspired by Gene Ammons as The Blasters, NRBQ as T-Bone Walker, The Dead Kennedys as Bill Evans. Skip Heller is the quintessential 21st century jazz artist, drawing from disparate influences and shaping them into a fresh and vital statement for a modern audience.
Most recently, Skip's organ jazz roots have come to the forefront, absorbed through hundreds of old Prestige and Blue Note sides, and honed through years of gigging at local Philadelphia jazz dives including Bob & Barbara's, All That Jazz and Sir Winston's. Last year's CD release, Homegoing, was the first of his organ jazz endeavors, leading to critical praise both far and wide, including 4 stars from Down Beat magazine.
While Homegoing was based almost solely on Heller's original compositions, the forthcoming, Fakebook, to be released February 24, 2004 on HYENA, will deliver exactly what the title suggests (the term fakebook in jazz speak referring to a rough musical sketch of how compositions are to be played), and thus renditions of Heller's favorite tunes and artists, ranging from Raymond Scott to Eddie Harris, from Prince to Bob Dylan, from Jerry Goldmsith to Les Baxter, many of which he and his band road tested in the Spring of 2003.
Recorded the day after the conclusion of a five day Northwest run through Washington and Oregon, Heller's band that includes Robert Drasnin (alto saxophone, clarinet and flute) Joe Doria (organ) and John Wicks (drums), was at the top of its game. Recorded in a single afternoon at Joe Doria's basement studio, the group crackles with energy and the spirit of live improvisation. In fact, in order to highlight the transition from the stage to the studio during this stretch, Heller included two performances recorded live" during the tour: Arriverderci Roma" and Sometimes It Snows In April." In Heller's own words, We were taking great pride in being a full-on professional bar band. It's a long-gone underrated type of organization, sort of like being a Roosevelt Democrat."
Standouts from Fakebook include a rollicking opening ride on the Grant Green/Big John Patton jam, The Yodel," giving Martin Denny and Red Norvo alum, Robert Drasnin, ample time to shine on clarinet.
Surely a first in the organ jazz realm is Heller's re-working of Exotica legend Les Baxter's Sophisticated Savage." Over the years, Baxter and Heller forged an incredible friendship, and this one was taught to Heller personally by Baxter before his passing in 1996.
An undoubted classic, and perhaps signaling the arrival of a new cornerstone in the canon of jazz standards is Heller's take on The Jackson Five smash, Never Can Say Goodbye." Heller breaks the group down to a trio here and in rare form steps into the spotlight for a fiery guitar-based delivery that majestically sings the melody with all the heartfelt grandeur of the original.
Had anyone thought Heller's subversive humor, an integral party of his identity, had gone South on Fakebook, he lays the notion to rest with an epic workout on Raymond Scott's Powerhouse." The entire band gets a lead here, and each member steps to the plate in profoundly swinging for the fences" fashion. The nimble manner in which Heller and company work their way through the intricate arrangement proves just how tight and responsive they'd become as a unit.
Finally, Heller rounds out Fakebook with two tracks recorded back in his hometown, Hollywood. The first is a pretty and understated solo guitar reading of Thelonious Monk