"Bear Flag" (DMJ-1083)
"Out of Time" (Live in Philly) (DMJ-1081)
Personnel: Skip Heller, guitar; Lucas Brown, organ; John F. Kennedy, drums.
"Intro/Canadian Sunset" / "Lost Weekend" / "Li'l Darlin'" / "...Lucas..." / "Wives and Lovers" / "...if you wanted to get over..." / "It's Not For Me to Say" / "All the Way" / "Mambo Inn"
What the critics say:
"...the guitarist and the material he chose for a return to his old Philadelphia stomping ground create the excitement...while virtually avoiding the chitlin-house shtick.
...Even with relatively laidback material, Heller's bright tone and melodic sense keep the proceedings alive and flowing. Drummer John F. Kennedy, an old Philly friend, and organist Lucas Brown, who played with him only once prior, interact with Heller as if they've played together for years."
- Jazz Times
"Certain live recordings seem to maintain the feel of the performance and venue and lose nothing in the recording of the event. This trio date...is one of those special live recordings...you can definitely feel the warm, sympathetic and swinging musicianship.
Heller's... got great taste in pop music both obvious (Mathis, Hefti, Sinatra, Bacharach) and obscure ('Mambo
Inn'). He plays guitar tight and hot, with flair and humor. What's not to like, you know?
Brown and Heller take full advantage of the rhythmic and harmonic space left in the absence of a bass player. In the opening 'Canadian Sunset,' Brown lays down an organ solo as gooey and viscous as maple syrup on pancakes, and does it
again in the leisurely 'Li'l Darlin',' rocking her gently like a hammock swaying in a lazy Sunday afternoon breeze.
Heller nimbly drops in numerous quotes from other tunes (listen for the hook
to 'Surrey with the Fringe on Top,' for example, which introduces his stroll
through 'Canadian Sunset,' or 'Embraceable You' in 'All the Way,' and stretches
'Wives and Lovers' and 'It's Not for Me to Say' well past their original
melodies. His twisted up and tossed off Mathis cover is just so freaking cool,
his inventive twists on melody and rhythm tasty and smart. 'All the Way' remains
a bit more true to the familiar Sinatra version, but sounds no less inventive or
...The dexterous, warm and good-natured playing from Heller and Brown on 'Out of Time' honors and
advances that guitar / organ jazz-groove Philadelphia legacy."
- All About Jazz.com
"...The music snuggles neatly into the mainstream of Jazz and promotes an easy-going, foot-tapping atmosphere. Heller's strings ring out resonantly as he negotiates through a crowd-pleasing mix of standards...One can typically expect things to cook with the guitar/organ/drums combination and that happens here...Heller makes his guitar sing out with clarity and crispness. They scamper through the well-known tunes adding a personal touch and solid improvisations sprung from the changes. Heller and Brown gel as co-soloists, making the night out on the town a happy experience for the enthusiastic crowd...sometimes kicking back with old favorites, good friends, and a drink at a lively venue can be quite pleasing."
"The program consists
of a collection of old chestnuts chosen to evoke a period of Philly jazz in
effect while an underage Heller snuck into clubs...
The peppy 'Lost Weekend' finds Heller fast and fluent, with Brown rolling in hard.
Neal Hefti's 'Lil' Darlin' receives a loving rendition floating in on Kennedy's
brushed cymbals. Heller's relaxed expertise unwinds into Brown's more
emotionally charged interlude. Appropriately breezy, Bacharach's 'Wives and
Lovers' provides the hub for a whirl-a-gig spin by Brown, while Heller sends
vining variations over the swinging frame, ending with a flourish recalling the
bubbling of champagne.
Back to '56 for the ballad, 'It's Not For Me to Say,' with Heller staying
close to the melody and Brown taking liberties. Heller then returns with a
collection of deviations, leading into the torch ballad, 'All the Way.' Taken
slow and evocative, Heller goes soulful, speaking in pauses with Brown
masterfully coloring the edges. His humid blue moan sobs on a streetlight
corner. Not to send the patrons home sad, the bus stops at the 'Mambo Inn.' The
1952 standard receives a buoyant reading with Heller flashing his genre jumping
- All About Jazz.com
"Capturing the raw energy of a live performance... giving the listener the feeling of being at the gig: a relaxed, intimate, small crowd setting, including banter among the band members.
...like all greats, Heller's knowledge and enthusiasm about the music he loves keeps him coming back: always new, always great.
Long, smooth strokes across Heller's guitar strings in the foreground, punctuated by a stealthy organ groove and a smooth drum backing, make 'Canadian Sunset' stand out--familiar, yet unique.
Upbeat, uptempo, 'Lost Weekend' captures the feeling of a weekend going too fast to handle. Lucas Brown carries some deep notes on organ.
'Li'l Darlin'' again features the strength of Lucas' feel for every organic note, taking the listener deep into the set as Kennedy slow brushes across drums before a bit solo.
Heller comes out front on guitar, as only Heller can, for 'Wives & Lovers.' Reaching into the audience, this trio picks up the interaction of a live performance--keeping that spark of electricity in the mix.
Paying tribute to the sensuality of Johnny Mathis during 'It's Not For Me To Say,' Heller slows his roll a bit as the trio keeps the song live, smooth and highly listenable.
Known for what he loves--and doing it--is what keeps Skip Heller on top. Choosing his co-players from the creme' de la creme' of talent keeps Heller's music memorable.
Going back to his roots and the music he so loved while growing up, makes 'Out Of Time' another great hit for Heller."
"Though he relocated years ago to Los Angeles and has explored music from bluegrass to Chicano rock, guitarist Skip Heller left his heart in Philadelphia, especially the jazz scene of his youth.
Heller's tool is the organ trio, a classic Philly congregation...
...To its credit, the session resonates with the older vibe of bars like the late Gert's...where the Philly jazz sound was kept alive by a select brethren...
You can pretty much smell the cigarette smoke and stale beer on this disc of standards. The slow kick of 'Li'l Darlin'' plays with fire at a deliciously slow tempo."
- Philadelphia Inquirer
SH on guitar with organist Joe Bagg and drummer Ryan Doyle, recorded in the San Fernando Valley:
"Highway 99" / "Til Things Are Brighter" / "Weatherbirds of Prey"/ "Philadelphia" / "Plaid Hat, Red Wagon" / "Train Rhythm Blues" / "Angelica" / "Letter Home to My Wife" / "The Shirley Scott Trio WAS the Time"
What the critics say:
"Skip Heller does an about face on 'Bear Flag'...this time he presents a program almost exclusively of original material except for one Ellington cut...and instead concentrates more on the development of the improvisational spirit...Heller comes across...as a very talented inside guitarist; I bet he could really wail if he stepped over the line."
"'Bear Flag'...what happens when a guitarist's track record includes everyone from roots rocker Dave Alvin and Big Jay McNeely as well as soundtracks to 'The Flintstones' cartoons. He sounds less like a 'jazz guitarist' and more like a guitarist with a vast command of numerous musical styles. 'Weatherbirds of Prey,' originally titled 'Something for Rahsaan,' toasts the iconoclastic reedman with a playful melody that starts out sounding like a ska riff that threatens to turn into 'Out of Nowhere' before it turns another corner. In 'Plaid Hat, Red Wagon,' inspired by the cover photo of 'Monk's Music,' Heller manages to quote both 'Music to Watch Girls By' and 'Corner Pocket.' 'Highway 99' pays homage to California guitar, combining some solid solos with a tremolo melody that evokes the Ventures or Link Wray."
- Jazz Times
"Working his own tunes with a different band, Heller's 'Bear Flag' better
demonstrates his omnivoric aesthetic. The first track pays tribute to the
Bakersfield country sound, the last sends a love letter to Shirley Scott. With
Ryan Doyle's road seam beat setting the pace, 'Highway 99' cruises with the
windows down. Heller tells a lot of what he knows about American Music, while
Baggs follows Heller's lead by keeping his solo lean, crisp, and roadworthy.
Written the night of June Carter's death, ''Til Things Get Brighter' cuts a slice
of mid tempo soul jazz ballad. Heller gently branches through his mid range.
Heller remembers his love of Rahsaan with the humorous 'Weatherbirds of Prey,'
only to wax romantic on 'Philadelphia.' The latter written with erased links to
the past in mind, gives Baggs a bluesy touch and Heller pacing reflection.
Inspired by Monk, 'Plaid Hat, Red Wagon' swings along straight ahead, only
subtly Monkish. 'Train Rhythm Blue' features fine filigree guitar lines silkily
lace throughout its somber melody. Ellington's 'Angelica' struts straight up
until Heller digs in for a rigorous run. Baggs brightly splashes Doyle's rigid
rhythm. The slippery starry sky of 'Letter Home to My Wife' gives Heller's
stellar reverb running space. 'The Shirley Scott Trio WAS the Time' sends a
jumping bouquet home to an old muse. Heller makes it sound easy, and Baggs
orchestrates his blues.
Heller's organ trios reflect the leader's deep connection to American musical
currents, and his ease juxtaposing seemingly clashing ideas to produce inviting
- All About Jazz.com
"...it pulses with righteous heat. 'Philadelphia' is one of those slow, poignant ballads that provides a rush. And 'The Shirley Scott Trio WAS the Time' - a tribute to the much-missed Philly player - gets mean in a sweet way."
- Philadelphia Inquirer
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