In its heyday, under the nimble fingertips of roof-rocking pioneer Jimmy Smith, the Hammond B-3 organ was a legitimate new instrument for elevating jazz funk to an unprecedented level. But despite the current mainstream accolades for bands like Medeski, Martin & Wood, this retro movement reeks of decades-old cheese: It's little more than fleecy piano players vying to get paid without knowing the first thing about how to get a groove on.
And then there's the Seattle-based quartet Wayne Horvitz & Zony Mash. Leader/organist Horvitz (who also plays with John Zorn's Naked City and Pigpen) knows how to kick the funk for real, but more importantly he writes songs with substance. The melodies on his 1997 debut Cold Spell are memorable, laid-back but not somnambulant, with a slight kick -- like a Long Island iced tea.
A chilly dance band for modern hippies, Zony Mash jam like all the other organ trendies of the day. But they stand out from the Medeski, Martin & Woods by sidestepping Grateful Dead cliches and hinging their tunes on soulful riffs, deftly syncopated between guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard. This, of course, creates far more original music than noodly solos on top of banal backbeats. Once in a while the band steers haplessly into '70s jazz fusion, but only for brief spells. While ill-conceived, these minor diversions prove that Zony Mash at least aren't trying to be anything other than what they are.
-- Sam Prestianni
Wayne Horvitz & Zony Mash appear with Robin Holcomb on Saturday, May 9, at 9 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk). Tickets are $10; call 885-0750.