Robert Kennedy leads his ensemble in organ-based jazz fusion

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Robert Kennedy’s full-length album, “Closer to Home,” is his second as a leader of a Hammond-organ jazz ensemble. The recording features a mix of styles, including gospel, rock, and blues. The album is intended to illustrate how the blues are the foundation of jazz. With the combination of styles found on, “Closer to Home,” listeners can hear how jazz and other genres are related.

About Robert Kennedy

Robert Kennedy was born and raised in the American South. Since the 1980s, he has been involved in re-invigorating the Hammond organ’s popularity in the San Francisco Bay area. Kennedy played piano in the Stanford University Jazz Band. He studied jazz piano with jazz pianist and educator, Bill Bell.

Kennedy’s professional career included being a founding member of both Hip Pocket Jazz Quintet and Double Funk Crunch. “Closer to Home” contains modern tracks that hint at the kinds of songs played on his all-original debut, “Big Shoes.”

“Closer to Home” sounds and players

Kennedy’s ensemble is completed by Terrence Brewer on guitar, Ben Torres on saxophone, and Cody Rhoades on drums. The group members are award-winning musicians in their own right. In fact, Torres is a Grammy winner.

With an accomplished group to round out his soundscape, Kennedy manages to craft the kinds of songs that he promises listeners. The overall sound of the album is rather understated, but the Hammond organ is present. Its sound does not overwhelm the soundscape.

The organ contrasts nicely with the guitar. The saxophone plays a bright-sounding motif on “Come On, Come In.” The Hammond pulses in the background during the guitar showcase. The drums crash just right, even as the guitar begins to play at a dizzying speed. The saxophone comes in for its own spotlight after the guitar. At this point in the song, the saxophone and guitar are not competing for the forefront of the soundscape. The feel remains relaxed.

“Do You Know a Good Thing (When You See One)?” is a bluesy-sounding piece. It has a saxophone-driven verve that keeps listeners in a groove they might have heard before, but it is lively and textured with the Hammond in the background. The guitar and saxophone explore blues-based rhythms and the drums swing. There is a touch of 1960s blues joint feel to the piece.

“Alligator’s Strut” is found at the end of the album, and it is a treat worth waiting for. It has a different approach to jazz than most of the other songs. The beginning features shimmering drums and a malleable, upright bass that takes the forefront of the soundscape.

By the time the Hammond organ and saxophone join in “Alligator’s Strut,” the song has taken on a bit of a New Orleans rhythm. Even when the guitar showcase happens, the New Orleans beat persists. The upright bass sounds heavy enough to keep the song from sounding whimsical. The saxophone is featured after the guitar. Overall, the song sounds like a party. Each instrument builds in volume and complexity, except the drums seem to keep their rhythm.

When Kennedy calls his new album “Closer to Home,” it seems that he means the American South and the roots of where decidedly American forms such as blues, jazz, and gospel came from. As a result, it seems that Kennedy and his ensemble have found their way.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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