Robert Kennedy, Closer to Home

by Nolan DeBuke

Robert Kennedy grew up in the deep south, where jazz has a long-standing history of producing soulful artists with a swinging attitude, dripping with gospel overtones.  Kennedy is a Hammond organist and pianist that clearly soaked up his red clay roots, as his music is dripping with deeply felt swing and a style entrenched in the traditions of jazz organ.

Moving to the San Francisco music scene, Robert was a founding member of the groups Hip Pocket Jazz Quintet and Double Funk Crunch, and has had the pleasure of playing venues such as Yoshi’s, the Boom Boom Room, Doc’s Lab, the Agenda Lounge (in its heyday), and the SFJAZZ Miner Auditorium, and has shared stages with renowned players such as Nancy Wright, Calvin Keys, Will Weston and Terrence Brewer, playing music ranging from jazz, blues, R&B, and rock and roll.

“Wild Bill” opens the album. Instantly the music confirms that Kennedy and his band know how to build upon the rich blues, groove and gospel inspired feels that we have all come to love about organ-based ensembles. Ben Torres joins the trio on this blues riff-based melody. The feel is superlative, Kennedy’s big organ sound hooks-up with Cody Rhodes’ kit to create a vibrant rhythmic pad of both pulse and harmony. The melody is notable and offers a nice bass counter melody as the band plays the accents with feeling and spot-on accuracy. Torres wastes no time building the energy of his solo, with flurries of notes, he still maintains the melody’s character and theme throughout the duration of his solo. Kennedy’s solo is all about soul, his lines are lyrical and always relaxed and in the pocket. The band does not try to reinvent the wheel here, this is standard organ criteria done by a exceedingly capable group of players that results in a rewarding listening experience.

Clifford Brown’s 12 bar blues “Sandu” is treated with respect and is chalk-full of swinging melodies by Brewer and Kennedy. Kennedy plays the melody as Brewer provides a quarter note chordal pulse, as he syncs with Rhodes to establish the soulful swing feel. Brewer’s bluesy touch to his bop inspired lines are a sheer joy to experience. His development of melodic ideas is marked, always settling in the pocket as the band swings hard. Kennedy’s solo is excellent, blues is the theme here, combine that with his soulful rhythmic phrasing and you have a highlight track. Kennedy’s sound choice during his solo helps build his solo and keeps things moving felicitously. Kennedy is thoughtful in his melodic approach, rather than overfilling with unnecessary notes, always relying on strong melodic lines instead of exaggerated flurries that offer less concise direction. Kennedy and Brewer make a wonderful team, the former being august and the latter being the virtuosic, the two meld beautifully to create a beautiful musical statement.

Closer to Home offers a bonded sound of like-minded players with virtuosic performances focusing on the melodic and lyrical aspect of conversational jazz.  The standards are thoughtful and performed in a respectful homage, while the originals compliment and expand the cannon of jazz style centered in the 50s and 60s post-bop idiom.

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