Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Burgeoning organ quartet makes an impact at the Jazz Kitchen

Steve Snyder at his other instrument, the piano, in a shot from a DePauw promotional video.
In only its second major local outing, Prime Vintage gave notice it could be a force to be reckoned with in the area's small-group jazz scene, especially since it fills a void in the organ-and-guitar-centered genre.

The shade of Mel Rhyne must be pleased.

Steve Snyder, director of jazz ensembles at DePauw University, is a lifelong pianist who added the Hammond B3 organ to his arsenal as a performer about 10 years ago. Teaching at a university in eastern Kentucky, he serendipitously found a way to address the problem of there being too few bassists in the area. "I came across an organ that hadn't been played in years," he said between Jazz Kitchen sets Tuesday evening, "in a practice room that no one ever used." (The B3 encourages the player to supply his own bass line.)

The organ provided what had been missing as Snyder gigged around off-campus. Since 2014, the Greencastle university has been his home base. He's specialized increasingly on organ, and played the Kitchen's instrument Tuesday in the second appearance there of his quartet, Prime Vintage.

He chose the name to emphasize a desire to model his small group after the heyday of jazz organ in the 1950s and 1960s, when the likes of Jimmy Smith and Larry Young were making waves. He has worked recently with Indianapolis musicians Joel Tucker, guitar, and Kenny Phelps, drums, to the extent of laying down several tracks with them at a Bloomington studio. Those are awaiting companion tracks depending on Snyder's ability to raise money for Prime Vintage's recording debut.  A definite part of those plans will be to include the band's fourth member, tenor saxophonist Sophie Faught.

I caught the first set about a half-hour in and stayed through the break so I could hear all of the second. This group, three of whose members are well-known to Indianapolis jazz fans. has a firm basis from the bona fides that Phelps, Faught, and Tucker bring to it, and the leader is sure to become  better-known hereabouts, particularly if Prime Vintage thrives.

He is a winning writer, with a tribute to his two young sons, "Those Two," providing a fine ballad vehicle in the first set. The group relaxed into it, and kept it tender throughout their solos, right through a Faught cadenza at the  end.  And he seems to be skilled at bringing to light obscure songs, such as the melody Barry Manilow provided to previously unset lyrics by Johnny Mercer: "When October Goes" was a nice discovery, and Faught poured a lot of soul into her solo on it; Tucker was featured in a fittingly reflective ending.

There were of course plenty of uptempo and midtempo  grooves, in which the quartet shone. Tucker seemed to inject a little Coryell juice into his solo on "Poppin'," and Snyder picked up on the title's implications with lots of stinging staccato playing. The leader was especially flamboyant in "Somewhere in the Night," a Lalo Schifrin tune, getting all around the theme, illuminating it from various directions.

And after a rough start, John Patton's "The Yodel" fully displayed this quartet's capabilities. Some strong shredding in Tucker's solo set the stage for one of Phelps' protean, well-directed outbursts. The  passion and control exhibited by this quartet Tuesday raises the hope to hear more of Prime Vintage before too long.