An hour-long recital on solo Hammond B3 organ might be a hard sell in certain circles, but Brian Charette makes a strong case for the viability of the venture on Borderline, his fourth disc for the Danish Steeplechase imprint. Charette’s last album for the label was equally ambitious, focusing on creative homespun charts for a horn-heavy sextet. He’s still touring with that particular configuration, which makes this opportunity to hear him absent any colleagues a welcome revelation. None of the tunes are originals, but Charette’s choices range pretty widely from jazz and bossa ringers like “Body and Soul” and “Girl from Ipanema” to chin-scratching surprises like Hall & Oates’s “Sara Smile”, the Madonna-associated title tune and the John Barry Bond theme “You Only Live Twice.” Such latter selections probably sound suspect on the page, but Charette isn’t averse to embracing the kitschier pop tributaries of his instrument’s lineage. A playful and fairly straight shot through “Tico Tico” and the aforementioned “Ipanema” veer knowingly into the purview of lounge organ maestro Walter Wanderly. “Borderline” starts off in Norman Lear sitcom soundtrack territory and builds to an almost gospel-like grandeur through lush legato swells and a pulpit-worthy reverence for melody. It’s an odd interpretation, but one that strangely works.
Selecting Chick Corea’s tricky “Windows” as the disc opener clearly establishes Charette’s credentials on the jazz chops score and some of the most engaging aspects of his playing involve his nimble pedal work (abetted by an adroit left hand) in threading juicy bass lines through his varied investigations. A warm, at moments almost glowing, sustain also aids in the creation of an enveloping and inviting sound. Charette even breezes through “I Got Rhythm,” that hoariest of bop heirlooms, as if to offer a cheeky assurance to any scowling purists as to his willingness to play all bases. Other dusty relics like Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” and Bird’s “Dona Lee” receive infusions of quirky energy through Charette’s manipulations. The walking bass lines on both tracks are massive and consuming, particularly on a decent pair of ear goggles (which really is the optimal listening set-up for the entire disc). The slippery progressions Charette spools out on top are good and greasy, bringing to mind the rapid-fire peregrinations of organ god Jimmy Smith at his most dexterous. “Corcovado” is an unexpected delight, too, but for different reasons; Charette digs deep into a muzak-friendly Jobim melody and actually manages to assemble an admirable amount of genuine improvisatory excitement from the effort.
There’s an admitted adjustment period likely necessary in acclimatizing to Charette’s intentions and execution, but once the ears align to his frequency, the program is never less than an entertaining trip. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also an effective reminder that in the right creative hands even the most dubious material still has a decent shot at coaxing skeptics.