The Prismatic Facets of Brian Charette’s New CD “Power in the Air”

Coming March 15: “Power in the Air” by Brian Charette represents album number 3 for his sextet. The NYC-based organist has amped up the wattage in songs like “Harlem Nocturne” – sassy, brassy and with a wicked drag (and an unexpected couple of punches from the flute); “Want” shows playful counterpoint with a fantastic layered groove from drums in a song that drops you cold, midpoint, veering off a bridge to a different land (also dig those flames from the flute, reminiscent of “Spill the Wine”); and “Frenzy” is energized by soaring melodies, light, cool beats and a very yummy solo from the sultry saxes keeping things moving. The top strengths of this ensemble are its tight harmonies and infectious tempos.

Personnel: Brian Charette, organ; Itai Kriss, flute; Mike DiRubbo, alto sax; Kenny Brooks, tenor sax; Karel Ruzicka, bass clarinet; and Brian Fishler, drums.

What attracted you to playing organ in the first place?

I liked the power and the different sounds you can get with the drawbars and Leslie speaker. I was also very into Keith Emerson (from ELP) and organ was one of his main instruments

What was your first public performance?

A concert of piano music at my high school, Orville H. Platt High.

Playing by age 17 with icons like Houston Person – how did those opportunities arise for you at such an early age?

Around this age, I started to play in jazz clubs in Hartford, CT. When artists would come through town to play, I was often put in the group that would accompany them if they weren’t traveling with a band.

How does Hammond differ in its use in jazz from piano; how are those aesthetic decisions made?

They are similar in the way that they have keys, but a piano sound is made by hammers striking strings and an organ sound is made with electricity. Organ also has mechanical drawbars that are meant to simulate pipes on a pipe organ that you can adjust to change the color of the sound. Piano is touch-sensitive and organ is not. The technique of playing the keys is identical, though, with the slight difference of the organ keys being easier to push down than the piano keys.

And— for me, a lot of it depends on if I’m playing with a bassist or not. For most of my recordings I am supplying the bass line with the organ and pedals. For my albums as a leader, I’m usually asked to play organ because I am known primarily for playing that instrument, so in many cases I don’t get to choose. On my self-released albums, I play many different keyboards including organ and piano.

My self-released albums are usually much more electronic than my albums for SteepleChase and Posi-Tone which are usually acoustic jazz groups with Hammond organ.

What big bands throughout history, or contemporary ones, have informed your sound?

My first big influences were Emerson Lake & Palmer and Yes. These groups had very accomplished keyboardists using all sorts of keyboard instruments. I’m also very influenced by jazz organists like Jimmy Smith and Larry Young.

What inspired the CD itself, and also the title of it, “Power from the Air”?

I think the computer music I make lately has a big influence on my jazz music. I think the pieces have a hypnotic sound that reminds me of my music machines playing together. “Power from the Air” refers to people that live on “Prana” or life energy. I’m not sure if this is possible but I love the fact that humans like to reach for things beyond their understanding.

How would you characterize the vibe of this new CD?

Minimalist and meditative…..with a wink 🙂

What did you find the most satisfying during the production process?

Because I write the music by myself, the first time I hear the music performed by the group is the most satisfying.

A really schmaltzy, noir piece like “Harlem Nocturne”: does a song like this have its challenges in not going TOO overboard?

We do go a little bit overboard in the break sections which are completely free 🙂 I don’t put any restrictions on the group, or tell them to play a certain way, though. To me, it sounds the best when each individual is bringing their own personal sound to the music.

Talk about your band members here; what they contribute to this CD and why you chose them.

The members of the sextet are amazing improvisers and sight readers. The music is very challenging, so they put a lot of effort into it. Our concerts are very fun and I think everyone really likes to perform with the group. Many of the members are close friends who have been in the group for a long time. Alto saxophonist, Mike DiRubbo, and I have been friends since I was 17.

What have you done to stay viable, visible and heard through the quarantine?

I stream live electronica concerts from Facebook every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. EST. I have been teaching making lots of tracks for people. I even did some music for a film, so I’ve been very lucky to still have lots of work.

Any performances scheduled for 2021?

I’ve had 2 European tours canceled since the lockdown, so as soon as Europe opens up, I will play these concerts. I’m hoping this will happen in October. I’m also supposed to play the release of this album at Dizzy’s in Lincoln Center on April 21. I’m not sure clubs will be open by then, but we are hoping.

Other comments?

Thanks so much for sharing my music with your readers and for the great questions 🙂 BC

For more information visit www.briancharette.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

(c) 2021 Debbie Burke

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