(liner notes, 2009)
Three Wise Monkeys is the latest of Benn Clatworthy’s dozen or so albums. The title track kicks the thing off with almost a Wayne Shorter feel. Clatworthy’s first solo is brilliant, bits and pieces of the melody, tentative and almost staccato at first, then taking off into something beautiful and fast that just ends and you almost want to go back and hear it again knowing there was so much going on there you didn’t pick up on….but Joe Bagg comes in on organ absolutely cooking, something groovy and fast that also ends so suddenly with the head you want to go back and rehear it. But that damn head is too insistent, too propulsive and before you know it the tune is over and damn it was a good one. A great tune that you’ll be hearing on your jazz station. It’s a nice surprise to hear Clatworthy doing the relaxed pop number “By the Tme I Get to Phoenix”. It certainly fits the format, about as close to a sixties organ album this set comes, as Bagg certainly knows how to carry it along nicely. Sit back and dig it.
Neither Clatworthy or Bagg can resist the temptation to toss a few curves into the old “You Stepped Out of a Dream”, the tenor is upper register, the organ tosses in bits of dissonance and Littleton is dancing all over his kit…..check out the funky break Clatworthy had tacked on. Bagg’s solo here is spare and so nice, just a run across the keys, a few repeated figures, swinging and thoroughly groovy.Littleton’s takes a brief turn too, mostly solid pops on the snare with just enough tom work to punch the whole thing up again, and then Bagg and Clatworthy come in for the head and a final funky break and it’s over. Not the usual take.
Clatworthy’s “Blues For Gaza” is spooky, a fragment of “Shenandoah” almost, spare and desert blown, repeated a couple times, each more evocative and sadder than the one before that fades out before three minutes is up. It’ll hang with you. There follows twenty seconds of bass pedal and drums and rhythm organ in 6/8 that’s just begging to be sampled but in comes Clatworthy with the melody to “What’s Goin’ On” and it all settles into place. He explores the thing, Bagg does the same, but neither ever wander that far from Marvin’s idea and it’s a great take, like something you’d find on some mid-seventies jazz LP that was never reissued, sweet and soulful and a tad stoned. “Just Another Addiction” is another original, Littleton all over again the background filling in spaces, Bagg comping perfectly, then doing a Monk-like solo, and Clatworthy pushing it everywhere else, Clatworthy finding things to do with a melody a lot of cats wouldn’t try. Check out the head when they return…Bagg’s rhythm is almost hypnotic. “I Cover the Waterfront” comes in just beautiful, echoes of Lester Young, just perfect. The whole trio is so on here, you just wish you can hear this live right now, glass in hand, sunk into a barstool, transfixed. In the middle Clatworthy and Bagg skitter and bounced around the familiar melody while Littleton’s brushes is so hushed it leaves a pulse really that carried the tune along effortlessly. And dig Bagg’s solo….he owns the thing. The fade is gorgeous.
“One For Pete” finishes the set the way it began, strong and straight ahead. You can really hear the Trane now, Clatworthy has the man in his bones. Bagg walks the baseline, and drops in touches of Larry Young, maybe, tight percussive comping.Littletonagain fills in the spaces just right with the snare, tom fills and especially the cymbals. That’s a great Bagg solo, he’s working it, and Clatworthy comes in again, always reaching up for the high notes, a couple snappy drum breaks, a couple classic Clatworthy swirls and a final brief Bagg solo, everyone drops back into the head off the snare and that’s a take, baby. Yet another solid Benn Clatworthy album. Can’t wait for the next one.