By Edward Kliszus

Tonight in the Birdland Theater was the Maurizio Spista Groove Jazz Funk Organ Trio.

Drummer Maurizio Spista brought organist Akiko Tsuruga and guitarist Paul Bollenback on stage to begin tonight’s diverse adventure into jazz, funk, blues, improvisation and jamming.

Spista began with a shuffle beat for a blues number. The guitarist played the head, and each trio member soloed and traded with the others. For laymen, the “head” is the tune’s melody following the song’s form. The form or structure is a tune’s verses, chorus, and sometimes a transitional “release” section that restarts the song from the beginning. With its rich blues and medium shuffle beat, this tune provided the base for a rich, extended organ solo.


Akiko Tsuruga. From #akikojazzorgan

Akiko Tsuruga

With her Viscount organ, Tsurugas showed the expressive power and versatility of the instrument. With her lightning speed on the keys, Tsurugas dexterously manipulated volume, glissandi, organ stops, and vibrato. I imagined the magnificent Hammond B-3 organ with its Leslie spinning to create the classic soulful sound heard in jazz venues for decades. I recall men straining to lug the large, heavy B-3 into clubs for protegees of famed jazz organists like Jimmy Smith or Dr. Lonnie Smith. Modern keyboard technology saves the backs of jazz roadies.

Maurizio Spista – Superb Sense of Time

Spista provided a solid rhythmic kaleidoscope. His sense of time is superb, and he frequently uses his high-hat cymbals on beats two and four or one and three (in duple time) as a foundation for the colorful, varied mix he provides.

The next song was a surprise as Spista began with a 60s pop rock beat. It was a fresh departure from the bluesy shuffle and signaled the start of a tour through the 1960s. The trio performed the soul standard “Sunny” written and recorded by Bobby Hebb in 1963, and it provided for an extended virtuoso organ solo.

And if “Sunny” wasn’t enough of a sentimental journey in time, the trio performed the upbeat song L.O.V.E. by Bert Kaempfert and Milt Gabler, and famously recorded by Nat King Cole in 1964.

Wes Montgomery’s song “Full House” from 1962 followed, giving the trio a straight-ahead jazz classic with which to improvise and express the mystique of the cool jazz era frequently attributed to Miles Davis.

We traveled south to Brazil with the bossa nova “So Nice,” written by Marcos Valle and Norman Gimbel, and recorded by Astrud Gilberto in 1966. In this song, Tsurugas and Spista playfully improvised in extended and two-bar trades.

A fusion, avant-garde work by Spista exploded into a fabulous virtuoso guitar solo by Bollenback. He was supported by powerful, busy drums with walking bass and chord changes from Tsurugas.

It seems we needed to travel back in time, so with the enthusiastic audience catching its breath from fusion energetics, Tsurugas played an extended, pensive introduction for Erroll Gardner’s ballad “Misty”, which became Johnny Mathis’s signature song after he recorded it in 1959.

Paul Hollenback.

Paul Hollenback.

Funk and Virtuoso Guitar by Paul Bollenback

The session closed with a funk guitar feature, a bluesy organ, and virtuoso drums. Tonight was not just a show; it was an authentic jam session of virtuoso artists guiding their listeners through time and continental travel, gospel, blues, jazz, cool, fusion, bossa, and funk. 

Birdland Jazz Club (Theater) Events and Tickets 315 West 44th St, New York, NY 10036 New York, NY 10036

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim, Jaime Lozano and Mauricio Martinez at 54 Below, Tony DeSare at Birdland, and 54 Below Sings Broadway’s Greatest Hits.