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Jazz Album of the Week: Drummer Jason Tiemann Debuts as Leader with T-Man

March 30, 2020. The distinctive feature of T-Man, drummer Jason Tiemann’s debut album as a leader, is that the instrumentation is that of a Hammond organ trio. That was not the original plan, but these are jazz musicians; they improvise.

Budget issues—Tiemann independently produced the record—forced a scale-down; he could no longer afford the big-name sideman he’d planned. So Tiemann got creative, deciding he could kill two birds with one stone by covering harmony and bass with the organ, while having a guitar player out front playing the lead parts.

You’d never know these guys were ballin’ on the budget; the sound’s as rich as could be. And Tiemman follows in the great tradition of drummers—Elvin Jones (with Larry Young), Grady Tate (with Jimmy Smith), and Byron Landham (with Joey Defrancesco), to name just a few— who simply get the special dialogue and interaction necessary to excel in concert with the organ.

Most importantly, an organ drummer’s got to groove and play in a way that makes people want to dance…which, for jazz musicians, can be a different type of thing. But Tiemman and T-Man both get it.

It’s clear from the opener, the first of Tiemman’s five original compositions titled “The Elements,” that the group doesn’t lack for a bottom in its sound, courtesy of deftly-played left hand bass by organist Kyle Koehler. But the bass notes produced by the organ have a rounder, fuzzier sound than those produced by an acoustic bass, which can make it harder for the drummer in terms of locking into the beat. No trouble here, though—Tiemman and Koehler are clean and tight, simpatico.

Part of the ease the musicians have playing together might be owing to the deference the leader shows his sidemen; but for a few instances on each tune to showcase his percussive plumage, Tiemann’s efforts are focused on being a rock-solid backstop, letting Koehler and guitarist Ed Cherry take most of the soloing opportunities.

Which proves to be an eminently sensible strategy, especially when you’ve got a guitarist like Cherry who brings Pat Martino-like lines to the trio’s take on Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist Blues.” Cherry, who for years played with Dizzy Gillespie, delivers the smoke, and Koehler, who’s been relatively restrained in his playing to this point (“Night Mist Blues” is the ninth track of 11), initiates the old, slow burn, taking things to church in a Charles Earland type of way.

The next tune, an arrangement of Jerome Richardson’s “Groove Merchant,” presents an opportunity to take life just a little less seriously for five minutes. While we’re all stuck inside lamenting spring carnivals deferred or trying to think about what Opening Day at the ballpark might have sounded and smelled like if only…”Groove Merchant” fills in at least part of that sensory vacuum. It’s a great short-term antidote for the too much cable news blues and offers one of those rare occasions on the record where Tiemann steps forth and solos, first with brushes, then with sticks.

In these troubled times, the Groove Merchant’s brick and mortar might be temporarily shuttered, but his delivery service is running just fine.

Also to be found are arrangements of J.J. Johnson’s “Lament” and Kenny Dorham’s “Lotus Blossom,” the latter of which is clinic in aggressive, yet totally in control, organ trio playing, replete with an uncharacteristically swaggy (but very much welcome) trading of fours dovetailing into a hard-bopping Tiemann solo.

You might consider ending things with Tizzle’s Blues, an uptempo Tiemann original with one of the album’s more memorable hooks that sees Cherry channel the fusion chops of the late master Larry Coryell, who was known himself to jam with an organ trio from time to time.

But if you’re a softy for a standard, you’ll leave the album feeling satisfied by spinning the trio’s take on Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was?” There’s something hypnotic about this tune, especially when there’s an organ involved, that suddenly makes you see how Rodgers and Hart might have found themselves so temporally disoriented.

Matt Silver is a journalist, commentator, and storyteller who’s been enamored with the concept of performance since his grandparents told him as a toddler that singing "Sunrise, Sunset" in rooms full of strangers was the cool thing to do.