Chester Thompson – Powerhouse
2021 Real Gone Music RGM-1202 / Original Release 1971 Black Jazz
This is a short (seriously short, only 27 minutes) but sweet LP from future Tower of Power and Santana organist, Chester Thompson. Not to be confused with the drummer Chester Thompson, who toured with Genesis in the post-Peter Gabriel years and also played in Santana’s 1980’s lineup at the same time as this Chester, which caused this Chester to start using his middle initial to help people keep them straight. There is also a song called Mr. T that predates the A-Team by a decade. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the music:
The first two of the four all-original compositions here are pretty straightforward organ-led, blues-rooted soul jazz, taking more cues from Jimmy McGriff than Jimmy Smith, and giving generous space for soloing by trombonist Al Hall and Rudolph Johnson on sax. Rudolph Johnson is a fine player in the post-Coltrane tradition who has his own releases on Black Jazz that we’ll get to eventually. The last two compositions (Side Two of the record) changes up the mood with some heavier, driving funk; now we’re in Charles Earland territory, and the whole group just tears things up. Powerhouse indeed. Apparently, Tower of Power asked Thompson to join their band after hearing him with his own group at a club date. I don’t know, obviously, but I’d like to imagine that it was this sort of material that had them looking at each other with raised eyebrows, with a “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” look on their faces. Maybe the moment that sealed the deal was when he announced from the stage, “This next song is called Power House”, and it was, like, karma, man, because it’s the early 70s in Oakland and there’s no such thing as coincidence, so the TOP approached him on a set break with a proposition. Chester would play on a string of their strongest albums, beginning with the self-titled 1974 album that unleashed “What Is Hip?” on the world. With the exception of a credit on an early-80’s Freddie Hubbard album, Thompson wouldn’t revisit jazz (on record, at least) until a 2012 album called Mixology, which sounds very much like a direct follow-up to this record. It even has a new version of “Mr.T” that uses the same arrangement as the version here. So it’s rare treat to get to hear him spread his jazz hands over the keys on this early album. I only wish it was a bit longer.
Chester Thompson, organist, stayed busy enough with TOP and, later, Santana, that he doesn’t seem to have done much session work. But as an odd bit of music trivia, he plays on the track “Stinker” from the Elton John album Caribou; a song title which, incidentally, would have made a great one-word review of that record in the vein of Spinal Tap’s “Shark Sandwich”… It was nobody’s finest moment.
A1 Mr. T 6:21
A2 Trip One 9:00
B1 Weird Harold 5:49
B2 Power House 6:30
Arranged By, Composed By, Organ – Chester Thompson
Drums – Raymond Pounds
Saxophone – Rudolph Johnson
Trombone – Al Hall
Cover photo by Dorothy Tanous
Produced by Gene Russell