Charles Earland – The Almighty Burner

Charles EarlandThe Almighty Burner
Charles Earland
(32-Jazz – 2000)
by John Barrett

The title is very appropriate: at the end of his life Charles Earland went to Moody Bible Institute, where he was studying to be a minister. But of course, you say: his organ playing was righteous. His music has power: restless pedals, and chords with the force of a sledgehammer. When the groove was right, he was indestructible; this disc collects tracks from four albums, and the sparks are many. In big groups or small, the effect is the same: when Charles starts preaching, everyone takes notice.

First up is Side One from Smokin’, a quintet date from 1976. David Schnitter is heard on ensembles but wait for George Coleman: he rips through “Penn Relays”, a barroom solo with plenty of growl. Jimmy Ponder has a touch of Montgomery, and Earland keeps the fire going. “Danny Boy” is all Charles; light-stepping notes, and subtle changes in timbre. This gentle approach is unexpected; reminds me of Johnny “Hammond” Smith. Everyone romps on “Milestones”: Ponder solos like Wes did on “The Trick Bag”, Coleman soars, and Walter Perkins pops the beat hard – shades of Joe Dukes with McDuff. Yes sir, we have a winner.

The band for In the Pocket is 2/3 of the group from Black Talk!, Charles’ breakthrough album from 1970. “Tackhead” has a slow swagger; its intro is like “More Today than Yesterday”, the hit from Black Talk!. Earland walks up the stairs in his solo, a familiar move but here full of echo. Melvin Sparks burns the blues on his own “Gant’s Groove”; the track is fast and the sound is Green. Calm winds blow on “A Good Date: — then Charles rolls the right hand! The beat is light, Houston sails … this date is more than good.

The final sets come from the “Nineties: two septets with a lot of rising stars. The remake of “More Today than Yesterday” is close to the original – only this one has a sax solo. Person has a good one, and Robert Block floats feathery guitar. Charles repeats some of his original solo; it’s familiar but it gets the job done. (He ends saying “One … more … time!” You have to smile.) “Europa” has Eric Alexander, on the first tune he ever recorded: he’s creamy yet gruff (think Ammons) on a delicious slow groove. Instruments slowly join him: Oliver Nevels’ sweet twang, big brass from Clifford Adams. The tune keeps changing, from ballad to shuffle to show-tune; Eric is never short of amazing. Charles gets dainty on “Unforgettable”, and Person is back for “The Kicker”, steaming chords from a red-hot reed. The riffs are fast, the chords are thick – your smile is wide. In his liner notes, Eric Alexander calls Earland “The Big Engine Who Could drive the whole show by himself every night.” If you needed proof, here are eleven examples.