Album Review: Steve Grismore Trio – Bésame Mucho!

besamemuchoSteve Grismore Trio
Bésame Mucho!

Steve Grismore is a guy who has had a huge influence on jazz in Iowa City, being a lecturer in the University Department of Music and co-founder of the Iowa City Jazz Festival. But above all, Grismore is a jazz guitarist, and Bésame Mucho! is his latest CD release, performing with organist Sam Salamone and drummer John Kizilarmut. To any jazz-head there’s an immediate, strong connection between this trio’s instrumentation and the work of Jimmy Smith, the famously funky Hammond organ player, whose 1960s trio and quartet records on Blue Note Records defined a certain cool, funky sound.

Bésame Mucho! was conceived by Grismore explicitly as a celebration and homage to that sound. The recording attempts to capture the vibe of Grismore’s performances at The Continental jazz club (Des Moines) with organist Salamone and drummer Kizilarmut. With no original compositions, and no attempt to break new ground in the jazz vernacular, the album’s success or failure is determined solely by the quality of the arrangements and playing.

It succeeds. Grismore is a subtle and technically accomplished guitarist whose mellow tone makes even breakneck cascades of notes feel relaxed. Kizilermut’s drumming does much more than keep time—you can hear how intensely he listens to the other players. When Grismore or Salamone solo, he maintains the beat while playing a counterpoint duet with their lead line. It’s impossible to praise Salamone’s playing on the Hammond B3 too highly. It’s actually a difficult instrument to play expressively and Salamone’s right up there with past masters Jimmy Smith and Larry Young. In this Trio he’s playing the bass line with his feet while he stabs and riffs effortlessly. With Smith you can always feel him lean into the funk; by contrast Salamone has a lighter touch, outlining melodies with spiky runs of short notes. Anyone who has loaded in a B3 for a gig knows what a heavy, cumbersome instrument it is, and Salamone makes you believe it can fly.

Every so often in jazz someone comes along and revolutionizes the form, but the real heart of the music is the people who keep it a living music by playing it night after night. Doing it right is a continuous act of spontaneous creation, even as you’re playing songs that have been heard a million times before. Bésame Mucho! shines as a collection of classic tracks done right.

According to Tibetan Buddhist doctrine, Kent Williams is the rebirth in a line of tulkus who are metaphorically considered to be manifestations of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara.

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