Kyle Asche guitar
Ben Paterson Hammond B-3
Jake Vinsel electric bass
Mike Schlick drums
Produced by The Skinny
Co-Produced by Pete Zimmer
Recorded August 16, 17, and 18, 2011 at Victorian Recording, Barrington, Illinois
Engineered by Josh Richter
Mixed by Nick Boste at the Shape Shoppe
Mastered by Peter Andreadis at All City Mastering
Photos by Joe Martinez
Liner Notes by Bill Milkowski
CD Design by UoU Production
With Ben Paterson manning the Hammond B-3, Kyle Asche on guitar, Jake Vinsel on bass and Mike Schlick on drums, the four kindred spirits collectively known as The Skinny have come up with their own personal spin on the soul-jazz tradition. Carrying on in the spirit of Jimmy McGriff, Boogaloo Joe Jones and Grant Green, they also reveal the influences of James Brown, The Meters and Booker T & The MGs along the way. Suffice it to say, these Chicago-based groovemeisters know how to lay it down and slap some bacon fat on it.
While the members of The Skinny remains active on Chicago’s rich straight ahead jazz scene, they reserve their funkiest tendencies for this cooperative quartet, which forged its indelible chemistry during a longstanding residency at Pete Miller’s, a popular steak house in Evanston where many up and coming jazz musicians and veterans alike have held forth over the years. “We started that gig in 2006 and had a steady engagement there for five years,” says guitarist Asche. “The vast majority of stuff we recorded was what we had been playing every week there, so we could just go in the studio and hit and not have to worry about sussing out arrangements or reading charts.”
That kind of tight chemistry can be heard from start to finish on The Skinny’s debut, Dig On It. One of the blueprints for the band’s direction here is the 1970 Grant Green Blue Note album, Alive! “That record is the perfect marriage of jazz improvisation mixed with the grooves of the late ‘60s funk stuff,” says Asche. “A bunch of that record is still in our repertoire. We’ve been playing that stuff for years.”
As for the guitarist’s admiration for Green’s six-string style, Asche adds, “The three things that really resonate with me would be his level of conviction behind what he plays, his feeling for the blues and his groove or his time-feel. Those have always been the things for me that have put him over the top of everybody else.”
Bassist Vinsel, who had also been gigging with the great James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield at the time of this recording, contributed the slow grooving opener “Slim’s Walk,” which has a distinctly funky Booker T & the MGs scent to it and has Asche dropping in just a taste from the Dizzy Gillespie hard bop anthem “Birk’s Works” in the middle of his blues-drenched solo. On the title track they pay tribute to organ great McGriff on a cover of his funky “Dig On It,” which has Paterson wailing over the infectious groove with authority while Asche takes a sly, Grant Green approach on his solo.
Vinsel’s breezy offering, “The Slidedown,” has all the summertime pop appeal of Hugh Masekela’s ‘60s hit “Grazing in the Grass.” Says Asche, “That was one he wrote in his head driving back from getting some coffee on the second morning of recording. We sussed it out in the studio and it turned out to be a really nice unexpected addition to the record. That tune really encapsulated the vibe we had during the sessions. We did it in August out in a beautiful, sort of rural spot in Illinois. We had a lot of fun making the record and that tune reminds me of the energy that we had for those three days.”
Their cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s minor key lament “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” is a soulful feature for Paterson’s organ while their version of Kool & The Gang’s “Give It Up” crosses into James Brown territory, with Asche adding a potent guitar solo that melds Grant Green and B.B. King. Their version of McGriff’s sinister deep fun number “Chris Cross,” (from his 1969 album Electric Funk) is cast in a slow grooving vein with Asche underscoring on wah-wah guitar.
Schlick’s lone contribution is the funky drummer number “Juliboots,” which sounds like a tribute to Stubblefield. Asche contributes four brief but catchy interludes – the funky boogaloo “In The Garden,” the upbeat rocker “Booker,” the Metersesque “Wings of Gold” and the Felaesque groover “J-Rock” – each capable of serving as the perfect break tune during a live set. Paterson, who has been the regular pianist for Chicago sax icon Von Freeman for the past eight years, also contributes the uptempo burner “Long Division,” which has Asche digging in on some aggressive Jimmy Nolen-meets-Leo Nocentelli styled rhythm playing before offering a nasty solo on his trusty Fender Jazzmaster.
The oddball cover here is the hippie anthem “Holding” by bluegrass icon John Hartford. As Asche explains, “It’s an old bluegrass tune that our bass player brought to the band. It’s sort of a classic hippie tune about who’s holdin’. And we were also trying for an Al Green groove with that.”
Here’s The Skinny on this dynamic new band from the Windy City: When it comes to locking in and throwing down and keeping the party moving, they mean business. – Bill Milkowski
Bill Milkowski is a contributor to Jazz Times. He is also the co-author of “Here And Now! The Autobiography of Pat Martino” (Backbeat Books)