Melvin Rhyne: Boss Organ

Outstanding 1993 example of the revival of the organist's career on the Criss Cross label features a young Joshua Redman


If it weren’t for producer Gerry Teekens, Melvin Rhyne’s position as the organist of choice for his friend from Indianapolis, Wes Montgomery, would’ve have remained his lasting achievement. The late Criss Cross label boss rediscovered Rhyne in the early 1990s and released no less than 12 records by him, coupling him with young lions and stalwarts from the neo-bop flood. Riding the waves of the organ revival, Rhyne enjoyed a well-deserved rehabilitation.

Once surprisingly described by notorious organ-music hater Milt Jackson as the greatest bebopper on organ, Rhyne is one of the genre’s unsung heroes. Rhyne’s dry and plucky sound and unspectacular approach, replete with long and carefully constructed single lines, stood out among the more gospel and soul-driven pack of the golden era of soul jazz.

In his memoir, eyewitness and engineer Max Bolleman describes an enthusiastic congregation of aspiring organists in the New York studio at the time of Rhyne’s recordings, notably future heavyweight Larry Goldings. So, chances are that Goldings was standing near the console when Boss Organ, Rhyne’s third album on Criss Cross, was recorded in 1993. Boss Organ – pun on Montgomery’s Boss Guitar album – is reissued in a stylish gatefold package and its sound retains Bolleman’s trademark clear and measured original production.

Young lions on duty are tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Kenny Washington. Obviously at ease, they make the music flow as graciously and smoothly as a bunch of butterflies between the reeds. Rhyne’s fruitful ideas mark the slow blues tune Hattush Blues, the Latin-tinged Bear’s Tune and hard-bop classic Jeannine, supported by seemingly effortless bass playing by hands and feet. Rhyne’s dynamic handling of bop anthem All Chillun Got Rhythm suggests that Jackson had a point when he commented on Rhyne’s bop chops.

This line-up’s just perfect. Boss Organ is a good reminder of the smashing start of Joshua Redman’s career. He finds a luscious middle ground between the heat of Johnny Griffin, flexibility of Clifford Jordan and the sleaze of Stanley Turrentine, whether he’s got Stevie Wonder’s You And I or Wes Montgomery’s Full House at hand. Influenced by Montgomery and Grant Green, Bernstein’s lines are punchy and melodic. Rhyne’s cross-generational group plainly delivered one of the top-rate records of the early organ jazz revival. Small wonder that Criss Cross matched the exceptional organist with Bernstein and Washington well into the 2000s.

Hattush Blues; Full House; You And I; Born To Be Blue; Shades Of Light; All Chillun Got Rhythm; Bear’s Tune (61.30)
Rhyne (org); Joshua Redman (ts); Peter Bernstein (g); Kenny Washington (d); New York, January 1993.
Criss Cross Jazz 1080