Charles Earland Black Drops Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Hammond action in this re-issue of Charles Earland's second album of soul-jazz...

Greg Boraman 2003

Charles Earland came to his chosen instrument via a slightly unfortunate route. Originally a saxophonist, Earland found himself fascinated by the legendary Hammond B3 whilst blowing for renowned organist Jimmy McGriff who gave Earland the perfect excuse for a change of direction when he fired him to make way for a guitarist!

Within a short period of time Charles had mastered the complexities of this demanding instrument, including the schizophrenic task of playing bass with a combination of foot-pedal and left hand, as well as the dextrous runs across the keyboard that became his trademark.

Earland's second LP for Prestige, Black Drops was an archetypal soul jazz recording; a mix of bop, funk and blues with the usualpop cover (a slightly incongruous "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head").

The first cut, Sly Stone's "Sing A Simple Song" demonstrates Earland's hypnotic bass technique; an insistent pumping of root notes that became the source of his nickname "The Mighty Burner". Never as technically accomplished as Jimmy Smith or the Coltrane of the B3, Larry Young, Earland's simple approach and jazz savvy blends well with fellow soul-jazz mainstays, mercurial trumpeter Virgil Jones and guitarist Maynard Parker (plus the ever dependable Jimmy Heath on tenor).All make the most of their solos, finding original ways to entertain without leaving the listener behind. Charlie was adept at taking a bluesy riff and stretching it into something altogether more expansive, as highlighted on the track "Letha". His skill at maintaining walking bass lines whilst soloing is very apparent on the more boppish tracks, particularly the interpretation of Coltrane's "Lazy Bird".

Earland would continue his run of successful work with Prestige, moving further towards funky fusion as the 1970s progressed, transferring his talents to electric piano and synthesisers whilst enjoying crossover success before coming full circle and reclaiming his title as one of the kings of jazz organ in the late 1980s. It is tragic that Earland died at the height of his comeback success (in 1999 aged only 58) after enthralling fans in Europe and Japan where his original records are collectors items. His legacy of a wonderfully simple approach to jazz is still valid, and Black Drops is a fine example of it.

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