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Pat Bianchi | “Three”

Organ Virtuoso Pat Bianchi Debuts His Adventurous New Trio We Three with Saxophonist Troy Roberts and Drummer Colin Stranahan

Available Now, Three, Finds the Band Stretching out on a Mix of Classic and Modern Standards With a Raw, Live Feel

As a modern ambassador of the Hammond B3, Pat Bianchi is no stranger to the classic organ trio setting. The Grammy-nominated organist was a longtime member of the trio led by late guitar icon Pat Martino, and has collaborated with such six-string masters as Paul Bollenback, Peter Bernstein, Mark Whitfield and Chuck Loeb, among others. He also shares his deep knowledge of the music’s history as host of the weekly Sirius XM show Organized.

At the same time, Bianchi has never been afraid to take the B3 into new directions. His two most recent releases were both ambitious undertakings: 2018’s In the Moment invited a number of high-profile guests – including Bernstein, Martino, drummer Carmen Intorre, Jr., vibraphonist Joe Locke and vocalist Kevin Mahogany – to join his trio with Bollenback and drummer Byron Landham; while Something To Say in 2021 found the trio exploring the Stevie Wonder songbook with saxophone great Wayne Escoffery.

Bianchi’s new album, Three, is in a sense a “back to basics” outing following those two more expansive efforts. At the same time, it’s anything but basic as the virtuoso organist continues to challenge himself. The album, due out February 9, 2024, scales back to a trio format, but for the first time Bianchi has opted for a sax and drums line-up rather than the familiar guitar accompaniment. His stellar new trio, We Three, features saxophonist Troy Roberts and drummer Colin Stranahan, both acquaintances of long standing, though the trio was a fresh combination when they entered the studio.

“My recent albums were pretty heavy investments, in terms of having a lot of different guests and being highly arranged,” Bianchi says. “I wanted to circle back to a live feel in a pressure-free situation. There are plenty of polished studio recordings that I love, but obviously you never get the same feeling as you do live.”

The Three in the album’s title is obvious, referring to the trio setting and the hallowed model number of Bianchi’s instrument of choice. Inspiration for the group came from a classic trio album, but not one featuring an organist. Bianchi became enamored of the possibilities afforded by the chordless trio while spending time on a transcription of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard.

Bianchi was emboldened to take this new step by two of his organ heroes, Don Patterson and Joey DeFrancesco. Both worked extensively with saxophonists – Patterson with the likes of Sonny Stitt, Booker Ervin, Houston Person, Bootsie Barnes, Charles McPherson and David “Fathead” Newman; DeFrancesco with a long list including Person, Pharoah Sanders, Illinois Jacquet, Grover Washington, Jr., Gary Bartz, George Coleman, James Moody, David Sanborn and We Three’s Troy Roberts.

“I love the openness of that sound,” Bianchi says. “There’s a lot more harmonic freedom. A guitar player acts like a pianist’s left hand, and they’re not always in sync with you. With a saxophonist, there’s a lot more room to go different places. I can play more lopsided phrases, or take things in and out harmonically.”

He quickly decided that Roberts and Stranahan would make ideal partners for the new venture. Besides his work with DeFrancesco, the Australian-born, New York-based saxophonist has played with Van Morrison, Christian McBride, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Kurt Elling and Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band. He and Bianchi have shared stages on and off since 2010, and the organist appreciated Roberts’ impressive versatility. “I like that he can go a lot of different places,” Bianchi says. “He can take a left turn at a moment’s notice or he can stay in the pocket. Plus we’re really good friends and have always been on the same page musically.”

Stranahan shares his bandmates’ eclecticism. The Denver native has played with such stylistically diverse artists as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jonathan Kreisberg, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Fred Hersch and Terence Blanchard, and with a gifted group of peers centered on the scene at New York City’s Smalls Jazz Club. Stranahan was still in high school when he crossed paths with Bianchi while the organist was living for a time in Denver. “He’s got huge ears and a great feel,” Bianchi says. “He can go all over the place, which frees me from staying in one particular vibe.”

The trio went into the studio with very little discussion and no arrangements, a reflection both of Bianchi’s confidence in the untried combo and his desire to capture a live feel. The genuine article can be heard on the album’s closing track, a performance of the Irving Berlin standard “Cheek To Cheek” captured at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis that bristles with high voltage energy and tightrope-walking thrills.

The studio session matches that daring atmosphere, from the taut, slinky groove of opener “Love for Sale” to the airy, elegantly hazy “Stardust.” Robert’s bluesy, breathy tenor locks into a Stanley Turrentine soulfulness on “When Sunny Gets Blue,” then becomes probing and investigatory on Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous” in response to Stranahan’s spacious brushwork and Bianchi’s enveloping Hammond fog. “Cryin’ Blues” mines the underexplored Eddie Harris songbook for a bold funk outburst.

With Three, Bianchi and We Three find the sweet spot bridging a storied jazz tradition and the spirit of adventure that comes from playing without a net. As Bianchi explains, “I wanted to capture that vibe of taking risks and not worrying about whether the music sounds a little rough around the edges.”

A live performance of “Cheek to Cheek,” which appears on Pat Bianchi’s forthcoming album Three.

Photo by Brian Pace

Pat Bianchi · Three

Release Date: February 9, 2024

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