Mike Arroyo Jazz Organ Trio – Full Circle (2013)

Hey y’all, it’s Sunday. How about some church music?

An inspiring sermon of hymns set to soul jazz is being delivered by the pastor of The Breñas Community Church in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, and the hymnbook is called Full Circle.

This pastor, Mike Arroyo, is a skilled guitarist whose mission in life has been to spread the gospel, via instrumental jazz. That’s been his thing since his first album Straight To Heaven (2001) and continues on through his fourth studio CD, Full Circle. This particular album is bolstered by the presence of the up-and-coming B3 player Kyle Koehler (Lou Donaldson, Bobby Watson, Fathead Newman, Jimmy Health) as well as drummer Vince Ector (Freddie Hubbard, Grover Washington, Jr., Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ron Carter, Claudio Roditi). Together, they create organic grooves that give these old Sunday strains a heaping helping of fresh soul.

Arroyo’s unfussy delivery and warm tone isn’t gonna scare the devil out of George Benson, but it gets the job done, and in a tasteful way. Koehler, who can bring the pew passion but is always in control, makes a great foil to Arroyo. Take, for instance, “Full Circle” the only Arroyo original of the bunch. Somber and soulful, Koehler invests just the right amount of passion, countered by Arroyo’s soothing cool single line notes. “His Eyes On the Sparrow,” lifted by Ector’s dynamically swinging strokes, succeeds in the same way. I like the risk-taking undertaken on “Doxology,” stating the familiar theme in a stately manner at the beginning, then transitioning over to a cool, finger-snapping riff for the middle section featuring some sharp improvising by both Arroyo and Koehler. Sometimes, they take a more subtle approach to jazzing up those vintage chorales, and usually it’s Koehler who slips in the modern harmonic counterparts to Arroyo’s straight portrayals of the melody; “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Holy, Holy Holy” are such spots where they do this.

The overall vibe of the jazz organ trio is consistent and satisfying no matter what song they tackle, though; my only real grievance is that many of these songs go to fade out just as they are attaining some good momentum; succinctness is a virtue but it couldn’t have hurt for these cats to stretch out some because they’ve got the goods to do it.

Testifyin’ without words might be a little problematic when performing sacred jazz, but no one is going to miss the message of music being spread on Full Circle. You may or may not get inspired in the divine sense, but either way this is music that’s nourishing for the soul.

Full Circle went on sale last March 26. Visit Mike Arroyo’s website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.