When saxophonist Craig Yaremko was in college at the New School, one of his mentors—the esteemed Jane Ira Bloom—heard him playing with an organ group. Right then and there she said, "Craig, your sound was made to play with an organ trio." Now, more than a decade later, Yaremko is proving her right.
Yaremko relates that story in the introductory passage of his self-penned liner notes for CYO3, the debut recording from his organ trio. In that same introduction, he also praises organ-centric classics like Jimmy Smith's Back At The Chicken Shack (Blue Note, 1963) and Larry Young's Unity (Blue Note, 1966), citing both as major influences; his music, interestingly enough, rarely resembles what's heard on either one. The deep-seated, churn-and-burn groove play of Smith and the into-the-great-beyond boldness of Young are occasionally hinted at during this winning program of originals and classics, but Yaremko doesn't subscribe to either approach. Instead, Yaremko looks at the organ trio from multiple angles, showing depth of artistry and character all the while.
CYO3 kicks off with organist Matt King's clever, metrically altered arrangement of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," which possesses a puckish wit balanced out by a down home sensibility. With this number, Yaremko immediately makes it clear that these won't be paint-by-numbers performances. This trend continues with traded eights on a twelve bar blues ("Blue Fontaine"), an odd metered Latin take on Thelonious Monk ("Bye-Ya") and a version of a Freddie Hubbard classic that finds Yaremko's almost-reedy-and-matte-finished alto flute up front ("Little Sunflower"). "Oil Slick"—Yaremko's propulsive contrafact on "What Is This Thing Called Love?"—comes next, with clipped phrases and driving rhythms, but it's his forthright approach on Billy Strayhorn's balladic "Isfahan" that makes the bigger impact. Yaremko's directness here, and on late-in-the-game offerings like "Simply Stated" and "The Light," is refreshing, given the cunning and oblique preferences of so many other saxophonists operating today.
While Yaremko's horn work and multi-faceted approach help to define this album, his band mates also play an important role. Drummer Jonathon Peretz's light-and-tight ride cymbal brings focus and clarity to the groove(s) and King's well-mannered approach to the organ allows the band to downshift into areas that few organ trios explore. The bonus here is guitarist Vic Juris, making guest appearances on "Bye-Ya" and "Oil Slick." He sizzles when he solos and fits in just fine with this group. Yaremko has found a format and formula that suit him well, so here's to hoping that this won't be a one-off organ group outing.