The steam emanating from the bluesy jazz coals of Greg Skaff’s guitar chords rise like a billowing inferno from the tracks on his latest CD East Harlem Skyline. Whether the riffs are as smooth as silk like in "Yasmine’s Dance" or as towering as a wildfire like in "Willie D," Skaff plays swing, bop and funk with the same elasticity and affinity for jazz as the likes of Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery and George Benson. His trios, which are composed of organ, guitar and drum kit, are reminiscent of the boogaloo burns and soul-searching jams of Miles Davis and Grant Green.
Skaff’s bluesy riffs are meaty and articulate giving tracks like "Tropicalia" and "Twenty-Three" attention-grabbing peaks and slides. The album features six new Skaff originals, plus a number of covers including Wayne Shorter’s "Angola," Billy Strayhorn’s "Lotus Blossom," George Colligan’s "Ultimatum" and Fiona Apple’s "Fast As You Can." Skaff shows a keen instinct for understanding the vernacular of guitar-organ groups and the infinite pairs of possible exchanges that they can entertain. "Contrary To Pop Motion," according to Skaff’s notes, is a tribute to Wes Montgomery, showing that contrasting waves can move harmoniously as the guitar chords descend and the bass lines ascend. Movements are smoothly waxed along the structured rhythmic patterns, providing room for creative improvisations which give the songs there musky richness and fire.
"Tropicalia" was named after a musical movement founded in Brazil and "Twenty-Three" was named because that’s the number of bars in the melody. "Lodestar" pays homage to John Coltrane’s smooth undercurrents and agile top layers, but the most challenging piece on the disc is Skaff’s cover of Fiona Apple’s song "Fast As You Can," which the band performed in true roots rock inspired jazz fashion.
East Harlem Skyline is Skaff’s second solo album with Zoho Music, following his 2004 album Ellington Boulevard. As a bandleader, he draws out the bluesy intonations of organ-drums-guitar ensembles and graphs meaty improvisations and harmonic forms that display a wealth of possibilities. The tacks convey Skaff’s own fascination with organ-based trios, and allows him to make his own mark in this format.