When reflecting upon the proverbial influence that the Hammond B3 electric organ has had on jazz, the first name that comes to mind is the incredible Jimmy Smith. Over time, cadres of very dominant organ specialists in their own right have followed a path layed by Mr. Smith. They include Wild Bill Davis, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Tony Monaco and a host of other notable individuals whose influence has impacted the overall jazz scene.
In recent years, another noteworthy artist has been quietly making a name for himself as a creative force in jazz in the name of Rob Whitlock. In a very short span of time, Rob has established himself as a well respected musician while performing stints with Jaco Pastorius, Randy Berensen, Bill Watrous and Max Bennett. He has also toured extensively in the United States and Europe with A.J. Croce, the Dazz Band and Fattburger in numerous concerts and festivals. Further examination reveals that Rob’s overall grasp of music and jazz was overseen by his father, who comes to the table as a highly respected jazz guitarist. Having played the organ since the age of eight, Rob’s dad often encouraged him to do extemporaneous concerts in the family home for his musician friends.
With that being said and other forces pushing Rob onward and upward into the musical universe, he has begun the process of expanding his perspective to a higher level of influence. To a much larger degree, Rob has been massaging his creative juices even more by spending some quality time in the recording studio. His latest album entitled Sketchin’ 2 is a stunning follow-up release to his Sketchin’ CD, which in my mind has revelations of a different sort, some of which are artistically different than what has been observed in previous Whitlock encounters.
Sketchin’ 2 can best be described as a blues-based fusion jazz recording that contains cover songs as well as original arrangements. Included is a vocal interpretation of Billie Holiday’s "Them There Eyes," sung by Amber Whitlock. The sidemen include saxophonist Michael Brecker, trumpeter John Georgini, guitarists Pat Kelly, Bob Whitlock, Scott Henderson, bassist Anthony Jackson, percussionist Vinnie Colaiuta, drummer Cliff Almond and Othello Molineaux on steel pans.
Collectively speaking, along with Rob Whitlock working his magic on keyboards, Sketchin 2 is an album that is well beyond the norm of most jazz heard today. On this release, Rob wrote as well as worked with others on four new songs to make this outing a happening. His eclectic and strategic use of fused nuances to highlight contemporary jazz and blues are the very essence of Whitlock’s appeal on this recording.
Although he is the spearhead behind Sketchin’ 2, Rob takes the CD another further by allowing his stellar cast of sidemen to shine through at various times. As one reflects upon the theme of his original intent, Rob goes the distance in transposing his ideas into thought-provoking musical relevance. The intuitive creative spirit that comes from within is alive and kicking on such tracks as "2nd Service," "Cold Duck Time" and "Gotta’ Insulator." In retrospect, this CD has Whitlock and company jamming through a complex set of grooves that are hard-driving forays into the very crust of fusion-based jazz.Sketchin’ 2 has a variety of multi-faceted dynamics to make it a compelling piece of work. One tidbit of déjà vu has Julius Pastorius, son of the late bassist Jaco Pastorius, doing the album’s artwork. That mosaic along with the fusion-based rhythms of Rob Whitlock and his band of studio musicians provide a panoramic view of everything cool about jazz as a work of artistic importance. Based upon my first and last impression of Sketchin’ 2 and my introduction to Rob Whitlock, I am compelled to get excited about what could be forthcoming from a Hammond B3 organ master craftsman.