Greg Hatza - Organized Jazz

Greg Hatza Organized Jazz (Coral 1968)

Plenty of sincere and spirited playing on organist Greg Hatza’s 1968 album Organized Jazz.

Greg Hatza - Organized Jazz

Personnel

Greg Hatza (organ), Eric Gale (guitar), Grady Tate (drums)

Recorded

in 1968 in New York City

Released

as CRL 757495 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
John Brown’s Body
That’s All
Tate Worm
Side B:
My Favorite Things
Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
Blues For Charlie


Born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1948, Hatza’s instrument of choice as a kid was the piano. He switched to the Hammond organ in 1963 under the influence of Jimmy Smith, like so many of his contemporaries. Relocated to Baltimore, at the time one of many Eastern cities with a thriving organ music scene, Hatza enjoyed a four-year residency at Lenny Moore’s and played with, among others, Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Philly Joe Jones, Roland Kirk, Les McCann and Sonny Stitt. Coral, a subsidiary of Decca and later on, MCA, released two albums by Hatza in ’67 and ’68, The Wizadry Of Greg Hatza and Organized Jazz. On both albums, Hatza is accompanied by the seasoned drummer Grady Tate and the promising guitarist Eric Gale.

Undeservedly, the albums went largely unnoticed. Surely, Coral, with its roster of Al Hirt, Pete Fountain and Buddy Greco, wasn’t exactly tailor-made for a modern jazz organist. In general, Hatza came up in a period when most organ seats at the larger independent labels were taken by the accomplished players and the popularity of organ jazz slowly but surely started to decline. In the early seventies, Hatza took up bebop piano playing again and switched to the electronic keyboard, performing and releasing albums with his fusion outfit Moon August in the late eighties and early nineties.

Meanwhile, Hatza held raga piano concerts, had been schooled as a sitar, tabla (Indian percussion instrument) and erhu (two-stringed Chinese fiddle) player and developed as a martial arts master, notably in Tai Chi, Shotokan, Pa Kua Chang, Hsing-I and Shaolin Kung Fu. Jimmy Smith’s dabbling in karate pales in comparison. In the mid-nineties, Hatza met organist Joey Francesco, who pointed out to him the resurgence of the Hammond organ’s popularity in a jazz context, and subsequently Hatza resurfaced as a recording and performing Hammond organist with his group Greg Hatza ORGANization, which is active to this day. Hatza also performs with the jazz/gospel group Sanctuary.

Organized Jazz offers an excellent reading of popular song, standards and blues. Hatza’s continuous flow of John Brown’s Body is striking. He’s spicing his solo with lurid, fast-paced bebop figures and makes controlled use of the so-called ‘drone’, which involves the simultaneous climactic use of a sustained chord or note played with one hand and lines dancing through it with the other hand. The trio stretches out on three tunes. My Favorite Things, paramount in the continuous development of John Coltrane and never the same again since, is a surprising pick. The trio succeeds in keeping up a good groove. One of Hatza’s talents is to take his colleagues on a furious drive on the freeway with his pithy statements. It comes to the fore particularly well on My Favorite Things.

Hatza wrote two original blues lines for the album. Showstopper Blues For Charlie possesses some of Hatza’s most passionate phrases. Hatza’s mix of age-old blues licks is peppered with dissonant notes and his timing, precise and varied, is quite out of the ordinary. The tune is also a playground for the upcoming guitar player Eric Gale. Throughout the album, Gale contributes funky, fecund lines.

The title of Tate Worm is a witty reference to the recently deceased drummer Grady Tate. Hatza attacks his mid-tempo r&b-ish line like a young bull storming into the arena. The torrents of notes are like the quick, unpredictable movements of the bull’s horns. To be sure, the bull is possessed with the abandoned desperation of a creature that wants to show who’s boss. Alas, he isn’t. The bull is a victim of the crowd. Perhaps the brazen Hatza doesn’t present the most mature of jazz statements at this stage of his career. However, Hatza’s discography offers abundant proof of his growth as a jazz musician. In 1968, he was a promising, exceptional organist and his second album, Organized Jazz, an effective example of his skills and love of the Hammond organ tradition.

Both The Wizadry Of Greg Hatza and Organized Jazz are out of print, unfortunately. Listen to the Greg Hatza ORGANization on Spotify below.

Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker

Bobby Hutcherson The Kicker (Blue Note 1963/99)

It can only be attributed to the risk of market overflow that Blue Note didn’t release vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s de jure debut album The Kicker in 1964, a superb date including Joe Henderson, Duke Pearson and Grant Green.

Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker

Personnel

Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar B1-3), Duke Pearson (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Joe Chambers (drums)

Recorded

on December 29, 1963 at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

BST 21437 in 1999

Track listing

Side A:
If Ever I Would Leave You
Mirrors
For Duke P.
Side B:
The Kicker
Step Lightly
Bedouin


HHutcherson & Henderson. Sounds like the misfits of the insurance business have joined forces in a run-down office on the outskirts of town. But the late Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson are regarded as towering figures of mainstream and avant-leaning jazz now, and as burgeoning class acts back then at the tail end of 1963, when they were really hitting their stride. Hutcherson had built a reputation first on the West Coast, subsequently in NYC, he had played on front-line beauties as Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond and Grachan Monchur’s Evolution. Henderson had recorded two albums as a leader, Page One and Our Thing. The Kicker was left on the shelves, seeing release as late as 1999. It is puzzling why Lion and the Wolff decided against release. They probably figured they had enough quality sessions to promote. Perhaps Joe Henderson was the kind of perfectionist disgruntled by the rough edges around a phrase or two. It doesn’t have to perfect, Joe. Coming with your package of supple, soaring post bop, we just might come to like that extra bite.

Regardless, there’s a pairing of talent attuned to each other’s needs and shining brightly during a set of original compositions and one standard, a sprightly mid-tempo take of Lerner and Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You. The crystalline, ringing vibes of the versatile modernist Bobby Hutcherson. Joe Henderson, already a strong-willed counterpart of a yes-man. Duke Pearson, inspiring accompanist, weaver of mellifluous lines. Grant Green, featured on side B’s three tracks, the prolific in-house guitarist of the Blue Note label, a class act in both hardboppin’ and modal contexts. Around that time, November 4 and 15 to be exact, 1963, Green, Henderson, Pearson and bassist Bob Cranshaw had cooperated on one of Grant Green’s career highs, Idle Moments. The mutual understanding is evident.

Hutcherson was a major contributor to Eric Dolphy’s free jazz classic Out To Lunch on February 5, 1964. He would venture into more front-line territories soon, recording his de facto debut Dialogue, and subsequently, the avant-garde LP side of Joe Chambers tunes on Components and the Happenings album with Herbie Hancock in 1965. A travel into uncharted territory. A balancing act of simplicity of expression and complex context. New vistas for vibraphonists ever since, the guys spellbound by Hutcherson’s siren-like cadenzas, the move into dark-hued corners of the mind, the zing of his angelic sound.

Already apparent on The Kicker is Hutcherson’s alert ear for group dynamics and controlled, conversationalist approach to the development of his expertly meandering lines. The great mood piece by Joe Chambers, Mirrors, suits Hutcherson to a tee. Throughout the set, which also consists of Henderson’s The Kicker and Step Lightly, Hutcherson’s For Duke P. and Pearson’s Bedouin, the rhythm section flawlessly and in uplifting fashion underscores Hutcherson’s vibe abacadabra and Henderson’s playful imagery. Henderson’s notes form fine-tuned blue and odd clusters, placed with a keen, floating sense of timing.

Though the title track, The Kicker, doesn’t thrive on the background riffs that propel the soloists into action as convincing as the classic take of Horace Silver on the Song For My Father album (including Henderson) and Henderson’s own version in 1967, it is a smokin’ affair, benefiting from the addition of Green in the ensemble and the guitarist’s propulsive, vivacious statements. Perhaps the moving, succulent phrases of Hutcherson and Henderson during Step Lightly should be attributed to the presence of Green, blues master at heart.

Surely Dialogue made up for a more distinct debut. But The Kicker remains a winner, having earned its rightful place among the hard bop cookies that rolled off the assembly line of the Blue Note label in the early sixties.

The Freedom Sounds featuring Wayne Henderson - People Get Ready

The Freedom Sounds Featuring Wayne Henderson People Get Ready (Atlantic 1967)

Soul power and gargantuan trombonism on People Get Ready, the 1967 Atlantic album from The Freedom Sounds Featuring Wayne Henderson.

The Freedom Sounds featuring Wayne Henderson - People Get Ready

Personnel

Wayne Henderson (trombone), Al Abreu (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Jimmy Benson (baritone saxophone, flute), Harold Land Jr. (piano), Pancho Bristol (bass), Paul Humphrey (drums), Max Gardano (Bells, bongos), Moises Oblagacion (congas), Ricky Chemelis (timbales)

Recorded

on July 7 & 10, 1967 at Gold Star Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as SD 1492 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
Respect
People Get Ready
Cucamonga
Things Go Better
Side B:
Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)
Brother John Henry
Orbital Velocity
Cathy The Cooker


Like his friends from the Jazz Crusaders, pianist Joe Sample and tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder, Wayne Henderson was an active participant in other projects, even more so during the years when the group transformed into a more funk and pop-oriented outfit under the guise of The Crusaders. As early as 1967, Henderson founded The Freedom Sounds, which released two LP’s, People Get Ready (1967) and Soul Sound System (1968), vibrating, jazz-coated hodgepodges of soul and Latin music.

Sandbags in front of the door won’t stay the tsunami of sound emerging from The Freedom Sounds. Certainly an outcome of Henderson’s robust trombone style leading the way to the shore and the multi-layered percussion blend of drums, congas, bongos and timbales beneath it like a thick carpet of pebbles and seaweed. But definitely it must also be attributed to the engineering excellence of Atlantic Records, which by 1967 had gathered a wealth of recording experience with jazz, soul, pop and r&b, producing giants like Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Joe Tex and therefore was perfectly attuned to the kind of superjazz Henderson envisioned would add to his and the label’s already imposing reputation. Preceding People Get Ready, a few of the sessions with big ensembles that Atlantic recorded were Freddie Hubbard’s High Blues Pressure, King Curtis’ Plays The Great Memphis Hits, Aretha Franklin’s Aretha Arrives, Herbie Mann’s The Beat Goes On and Eddie Harris’ The Electrifying Eddie Harris.

Usually the major-league engineer Tom Dowd turned the knobs at Atlantic Studio in NYC, unless the recordings in the soul field were at Rick Hall’s famed Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. But by the absence of Dowd an array of engineers took care of business. Here we have Doc Siegel and Stan Ross, this time at Gold Star Studio in Los Angeles. Anybody who is familiar with these guys, raise a finger. Assumingly, the duo was based in California. For sure, they are freelancing providers of soundalicious excellence. The sound quality is a kick in the butt, punchy resonance enhanced by the virtue of mono density that retains the force of stereo spaciousness.

Like the engineers, the group members are largely unknown. Al Abreu? Splendid tenor and soprano saxophonist with a penchant to joyfully move to the outer fringes of the mainstream atmosphere. Pancho Bristol? Seldom heard a better-sounding name for a Latin jazz bassist. Moises Oblagacion? Seldom heard a better-sounding name for an Afro-Latin conga player who, authorities of Latin music will point out, played on the obscure gem Introducing The Afro-Blues Quintet Plus One in 1965. Harold Land Jr. on piano? Like, I hear customers of a dimly-lit, teeny-weeny jazz bar in Osaka whisper in each other’s ears to the music of the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, the son of the great saxophonist Harold Land? Sure ‘nuff. People Get Ready is Land Jr.’s debut and throughout a fulfilling career, Land Jr. played with, among others, Gerald Wilson, Roy Ayers and, no surprises there, his father. Drummer Paul Humhprey, on the other hand, does ring a bell. I’m surprised to find he’s the featured drummer on a number of albums at the Flophouse headquarters, notably by Les McCann, Charles Kynard and Gerald Wilson. West Coast cat, obviously. Humphries has also been working successfully in r&b, funk and pop music.

The renditions of Otis Redding’s Respect and Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song) are juicy oranges, concise, crafty gems. Henderson wrote a number of fresh, energetic tunes: Cathy The Cooker has a lithe Latin groove, while Orbital Velocity, in the same vein, spells danger hi-voltage, sends the listener to a dance on the ceiling, somewhere in the vicinity of Havana, Cuba. The hefty soul groove of Brother John Henry is marked by a stupendous transition from the end of the melody to the following chord sequence. It’s like watching Lionel Messi step up a gear, avoid a tackle, sneak between three players and place the ball into the net over the dumbfounded keeper with a gracious movement of his instep. The crowd goes berserk.

Seriously, Sly Stone would’ve freaked out if he’d heard Cucamonga. Perhaps the burgeoning genius of psychedelic popsoulfunk really did. Henderson, like Sly, is able to put a lot of stuff in a tune without sacrificing its energy and coherence. Cucamonga has uptempo groove, slow groove, rousing breaks, probing reed riffs, furious soprano sax and the rotund r&b figures and outerspacy voicings of Harold Land Jr. A piece of lurid, roaring soul jazz ill-suited for the morose neckties gathered at the yearly convention of insurance companies in San Diego. Maybe if they do listen, their lives just might have changed irrevocably, like the crowd that watches Messi.

The wall of sound and rhythm and the tacky infusions of modern jazz phrasing of the title track, Curtis Mayfield’s/The Impressions’ People Get Ready, leaves one gasping for breath, only to send one movin’ and groovin’ on the floor, like just about the total repertory on the waxed offering from the 28-year old trombonist and his freedom sound fighters. Two albums, People Get Ready and Soul Sound System comprise a most concise discography. But of course a short, exciting career is to be preferred over generic swan songs. Arguably, Wayne Henderson and his gang of 8 had wrung out every drop from their soulful mindset, like tough old maidens wrenching bathing suits, the job done, the catharsis complete. We’re a winner.

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - Cookbook

Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis Cookbook (Prestige 1958)

Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Shirley Scott pass the peas back and forth on their soul jazz hit album Cookbook.

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - Cookbook

Personnel

Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (tenor saxophone), Shirley Scott (organ), Jerome Richardson (flute A1-3, B1, B3, tenor saxophone B2), George Duvivier (bass), Arthur Edgehill (drums)

Recorded

on June 20, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PRLP 7141 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
Have Horn, Will Blow
The Chef
But Beautiful
Side B:
In The Kitchen
Three Deuces
Avalon


Before DJ and promoter Alan Freed coined the term ‘rhythm & blues’ in the advertisements for his groundbreaking package shows in 1947, rendering it commonplace almost immediately, ‘race’ music was the general term for black popular music. Most likely, black musicians like Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis weren’t very focused on labels as ‘race’, swing and r&b, as long as their efforts led to the required financial rewards to pay their bills and put bread on the table. Davis played with Cootie Williams, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie in the early forties (throughout his career, Davis would have extended stints with Basie) and churned out jump-and-jivin’ honk-fests for labels like Savoy and Apollo for the rest of the decade. Meanwhile, the ‘new’ jazz created by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke was labeled ‘bebop’. It is usually overlooked, but Davis mingled smoothly with the pioneering crew, functioning as MC on the bandstand of Minton’s Playhouse, not without adding his brand of tough tenorism, lest we forget. He also cooperated extensively with Sonny Stitt during the fifties.

In the mid-fifties, Davis recorded a number of albums with organist Shirley Scott on King, Roulette and Roost that were well-received by the small circle of admirers of the hard-working group on the ‘chitlin’ circuit’, the network of clubs in the nation’s black neighbourhoods. Few could foresee the succes of their subsequent recording on Prestige. The fact that Prestige, securing better distribution deals and more airplay, immediately re-issued Cookbook as Cookbook Vol.1 and subsequently also released Vol.2 and Vol.3 gives a good idea of the group’s popularity at that time. Their attraction, nonetheless, also faded fairly quickly and soon after Davis formed a more ‘hard bopping’ partnership with fellow combative tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin on the Riverside label from 1960 to 1962.

It is rather amazing, in hindsight, that a long slow blues like their take on Johnny Hodges’ In The Kitchen (12:53 minutes, although obviously, Jerome Richardson’s solo was deleted for the purpose of the length of a 7inch) turned out to be the group’s big jukebox hit. There’s no use getting trapped in the web of nostalgia and romanticizing. But one can easily imagine black folks tapping their feet and slightly shaking their hips while the sounds of In The Kitchen reverberate against the wall of a BBQ joint at the corner of 110th Street and Lexington Avenue. As Charles Bukowski wrote: Style is a way of doing, a way of being done. You might want to let this sink in while opening another bottle of Chateau de Catpiss.

It means that the Afro-American citizens of the post-war years possessed a hip musical taste. As people who’ve lived to tell occasionally have revealed, it wasn’t uncommon to comment among themselves on music of both Jackie Wilson and Ramsey Lewis, both Louis Jordan and Gene Ammons. Although soul jazz wasn’t complex jazz, it also wasn’t as ‘primitive’ as sometimes assumed. Moreover, it had a social function, as people shared their enthusiasm on nights out into town, eager for solid, funky entertainment. With the introduction of crack and the subsequent disintegration of the neighborhoods in the early seventies, the cohesive force of music received a big blow.

Shirley Scott’s solo on In The Kitchen seems filled with her memories of the sermons she attented in her youth. More like her forefathers Milt Buckner and Wild Bill Davis than modernist Jimmy Smith, Scott focuses on riffs and a theatre/accordion-type sound. Then it’s Lockjaw’s turn. Initially, Davis noodles age-old blues licks with a low-volume, breathy sound, but he progressively speaks up more forcefully and finally his howls take over the recording studio of Rudy van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey. One of the pleasures of playing with “Lockjaw” must’ve been that his imposing sound and scabrous style effectively pushes a group forward. Stimulated considerably, Jerome Richardson delivers a blues-drenched flute solo with a remarkable ‘singing’ tone and some rugged tongue-effects.

It may not be surprising, considering the regular working schedule of the Davis/Scott outfit at the time, that there are more tunes on Cookbook that are full of delicate interaction and rock-solid swing. The fast-paced Avalon runs smoothly, both “Lockjaw” and Richardson’s balladry of But Beautiful is tender as well as meaty and the three uptempo songs The Chef, Have Horn, Will Blow and Three Deuces (presumably titled after the club on ‘The Street’ – 52nd Street, NYC – and with a rousing feature of Jerome Richardson on tenor) are first-class potboilers. Davis unites the terse swing of Ben Webster and a bit of Webster’s vibrato with deceptively nonchalant phrasing, freely and playfully making use of slurs, barks and husky honks. His way of stringing together lines sometimes has a peculiar, otherwordly quality. Like someone is spinning backwards a sax solo on the turntable. At the same time, Lockjaw sounds as if he has to scrub the dirt of his shoes every time he returns home from a gig. Mutually stimulating contrasts, resulting in an unforgettable kind of sax poetry.

Benny Green - Soul Stirrin'

Benny Green Soul Stirrin’ (Blue Note 1599)

Of the invariably soulful albums from trombonist Benny Green, Soul Stirrin’, with the heavyweight line up of Gene Ammons, Billy Root, Sonny Clark and Elvin Jones, is arguably his finest effort.

Benny Green - Soul Stirrin'

Personnel

Benny Green (trombone), Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone), Billy Root (tenor saxophone), Sonny Clark (piano), Ike Isaacs (bass), Elvin Jones (drums), Babs Gonzalez (vocals A1, A2,)

Recorded

on April 28, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1599 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
The Cooker
Benny’s Back
Bossa Rocka
All Of Me
Big Fat Lady
Side B:
Benson’s Rider
Ready And Able
The Borgia Stick
Return Of The Prodigal Son
Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid


Benny Green is like that friendly uncle who always takes you aside at a family gathering, stuffing a couple of bucks into your pocket, ‘here kid, go buy yourself some candy.’ Green’s playing is accessible, uplifting, his phrases smack of smoke-filled back rooms, where burly whisky drinkers throw dirty jokes to the other end of the card table. His altogether very deft, modern style retains a lurid sense of old-timey swing, which places him at the other end of the spectrum opposite pioneer J.J. Johnson. His tone is tart, a lovely blast of fresh air.

By 1958, Green’s experience consisted of a decade spent in the bands of Earl Hines and Charlie Ventura. He had worked and recorded with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Criss, Hank Mobley and Randy Weston. Green was up for his second Blue Note album, following Back On The Scene and a slew of releases on Prestige onwards from 1951.

Not only did Green have aboard Ammons, Root, Clark, bassist Ike Isaacs and Jones, the bop poet and songwriter Babs Gonzalez also put his best foot forward, providing two melodies. Throughout the album, there are ample examples that justify the title. It’s a spirited, blues-drenched affair. There’s the sparse, precise riffing behind the soloists in We Wanna Cook, an uptempo, twelve-bar blues swinger, reminiscent of the Count Basie cookers, and also marked by Papa Jo Jones-style drumming by Elvin Jones. The same procedures – saxes spurring on trombone – mark the title track, absolutely the best tune of the album, a heated Blues March-type groove, albeit a bit slower. Babs Gonzalez hums the melody, the soloists take off, Gene Ammons especially commanding, on top of his game, blowing long wailing notes, coupled with sparse, melodic bop figures, a wall of sound from The Boss.

Gonzalez’ Lullaby Of The Doomed, Round Midnight-ish, is a breather. B.G. Mambo’s fat-bottomed theme jumps and jives, but turns into a rather pedestrian, straightforward 4/4 rhythm. Sonny Clark’s introspective side comes to the fore in Lullaby, his accompaniment on the album is spicy, he turns a beat here, injects a persuasive bass note further away from the sequence there, continuing to hold momentum all the way. Perhaps the mutual understanding of Green, Ammons and Root, who played together earlier in their careers, contribute to the album’s coherent soul groove. Billy Root, rather the mystery man of this set, a great, hard-swinging player, had a more imposing career than most people probably realize, most of the time spent as a sideman. He played with John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Stan Kenton, Lucky Thompson, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie and many others. Check out an enlightening interview of the candid Root with guest writer Gordon Jack on the great Jazz Profiles website of Steven Cerra here.

When listening to Black Pearl, you will notice that it closely resembles Black Pearls – with the added ‘s’ – from John Coltrane’s album Black Pearls. Soul Stirrin’ was recorded on April 28, 1958. Black Pearls – released as a profitable afterthought by Prestige in 1964 when Coltrane had long since moved to Atlantic and Impulse – is recorded on May 23, 1958. So Bennie beat ‘Trane to a month. The liner notes to Soul Stirrin’ say: ‘The program is completed with Black Pearl penned by sax man Bill Graham.’ However, Coltrane’s album credits not Graham but John Coltrane as composer. Did Coltrane nick a tune? Aficionados on the in-depth Organissimo website suggested that Graham’s credit got lost, it was then registered as unknown, and subsequently assigned to Coltrane. Apparently, Coltrane remembered the nice melody, picking it for that wonderful session with Donald Byrd, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor. Organissimo adds the fact that the tune is registered to Graham in The Coltrane Reference, the Bible of Coltrane facts. Recognition after all for Bill Graham, born 1918, a relatively unknown saxophonist who warrants more than a few words in another time and place. To be sure, Black Pearl is another one of the tunes making sure Soul Stirrin’s a keeper.

The George Benson Quartet - Cookbook

The George Benson Quartet Cookbook (Columbia 1966)

There are two, maybe three or four George Bensons. However, for straightforward jazz fans, there’s only one: the cat that made gritty, in-your-face soul jazz albums like 1966’s Cookbook.

The George Benson Quartet - Cookbook

Personnel

George Benson (guitar), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Lonnie Smith (organ), Jimmy Lovelace (drums), Marion Booker (drums)

Recorded

From August 1 – October 19, 1966 at Columbia Studio, NYC

Released

as CS 9413 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
The Cooker
Benny’s Back
Bossa Rocka
All Of Me
Big Fat Lady
Side B:
Benson’s Rider
Ready And Able
The Borgia Stick
Return Of The Prodigal Son
Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid


For those fans, listening to George Benson after 1966 is like the obligatory New Years Drink from your employer. Damn, is guessing who’s been under the sheets with whom the only game around here?. Ok, one might answer the demure jazz buff, next time bring your turntable, light things up a bit, you crank. And the fifty-something who grew up on a diet of Average White Band and Santana might add, hey pal, George Benson did record some awesome stuff after ’66.

Sure he did. Except most of it is drowned in an overstuffed sound soup of strings, harp, flute, synth and, yuk, strings from the synth. A&M and CTI albums like The Other Side Of Abbey Road (1970) and White Rabbit (1972) are, notwithstanding the heavyweight line-ups of, among others, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, technically exceptional elevator muzak affairs, no less. If it wasn’t for the greasy, steamroller beat of drummer Idris Muhammad, 1968’s The Shape Of Things To Come would’ve been nothing more than schlock for the building constructors working on the streets where you live. Then again, few are prepared for My Latin Brother from Bad Benson (1974), a smoking, exotic and sizzling Latin tune with a quintet line up from the matured guitar player. And the highlights of Benson’s big break as a smooth jazz star in 1976, collected on Breezin’, are, despite their schmaltzy coating of synth, pretty darn good courtesy of the experienced, first-class session players – take So This Is Love. The only thing it needs is the voice of Barry White. Next thing you know one of sixteen vestal virgins appears from out of the blue, ready to sign up for Procol Harum’s harem.

As early as early 1968, when Benson was still a soul jazz guitarist, there were hints of radio-friendly formatting. His album Giblet Gravy has both the low-down dirty blues, injected with typical lightning-bolt fingering, of Groovin’ as the saccharine take of the ultimate crowd pleaser, Bobby Hebb’s Sunny. In fact, he’s singing an r&b-type version of All Of Me on Cookbook that could’ve done well on the jukebox market. George Benson has always been the kind of performer that succeeds in recording bubblegum ditties in the afternoon and play steamin’ r&b at night. Organist Greg Lewis told Flophouse that he regularly tried to sit in as a woodshedding Hammond B3 player in the early nineties in a Manhattan club, sometimes succeeding to replace one of the accomplished organists for a tune or so. Occasionally, Benson, at the height of his fame, would drive his limousine up the sidewalk, park, get in and join the band on stage. Nobody cut George.

Cocksure at heart. Benson was like that when he first hit the scene as a sideman with organist Brother Jack McDuff in late 1963. By no means arrogant, instead playing with a joy of discovery that is contagious. In McDuff’s band, the youngster, who sang professionally as a kid, still played the kind of r&b guitar style from his teenage years, although the influence of his heroes Charlie Christian and Grant Green (interpreted in fast forward motion) were readily discernible. Displaying quicksilver runs, a biting attack, torrents of foul-mouthed but impeccably placed blues phrases, Benson heated up both studio and stage to temperatures uncommon even in New Jersey or New York City summer season. Dig Benson’s fireworks on YouTube, footage of the McDuff Quartet’s 1964 performance at Antibes, France, here.

After a string of albums with McDuff and his debut album on Prestige, The New Boss Guitar Of George Benson, the guitarist had signed to Columbia, releasing It’s Uptown in 1966, with one of those grandiose subtitles I’m sure musicians weren’t too fond of, The Most Exciting New Jazz Guitarist On The Scene Today. It was a thoroughly exciting group that Benson had assembled and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, organist Lonnie Smith and drummer Jimmy Lovelace (alternating with Marion Booker) also gathered for the Cookbook session, still more tight-knit as a unit, delivering a hot barbecue of spicy ribs and saucy side dishes. There’s the opening tune, The Cooker, a strike of stop-time thunder, evidence of the group’s effortless breakneck speed swing and Benson’s fast-fingered blues wizardry. Perhaps already the highlight of the album, which yet doesn’t take anything away from the remainder of the repertory, including other Benson originals like the gentle Bossa Rocka and Big Fat Lady, a perky r&b tune that could easily pass for the background to Jimmy Hughes on Fame or Hank Ballard on King.

Benson gets his kicks with licks on Benson’s Rider, a boogaloo-ish rhythm perfectly suitable for the deeply groovy Lonnie Smith. Benson wrote the The Borgia Stick for a mafia television series, a lush greenery for the mutually responsive soul jazz cultivators, who are effectively aroused by sections of tension and release. The nifty Jimmy Smith tune Ready And Able presents the burgeoning talent of baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber to full effect. He’s like the cookie monster that’s gotten a shot of rhythm&blues, soulfully eating up the breaks off the I Got Rhythm changes.

The other horn player on the date, Benny Green, happened to walk into his friend George Benson on the street prior to Benson’s session. Benson invited Green over to the studio to join the proceedings. Such is the unique nature of jazz and its practitioners, that sheer coincidence may be turned into a musical advantage. Green’s uplifting, swinging style is an asset on Benny’s Back (which was written on the spot by Benson and refers to the fact that Green was also present on Benson’s first Columbia LP) and the swing-styled jam Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid, the longest track on an album that keeps warming the hearts of ‘early-Benson-fans’ around the globe.

Gene Ammons - Brother Jug!

Gene Ammons Brother Jug (Prestige 1970)

As if nothing had happened, Gene Ammons resumed his place in the Prestige roster after his seven-year long stint in jail and delivered four consecutive big-selling albums in 1969/70. Brother Jug is the second in line.

Gene Ammons - Brother Jug!

Personnel

Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone), Sonny Philips (organ), Junior Mance (piano), Billy Butler (guitar), Bob Bushnell (bass), Bernard Purdie (drums), Frankie Jones (drums), Candido (congas)

Recorded

on November 10 & 11, 1969 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7792 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
Son Of A Preacher Man
Didn’t We
He’s A Real Gone Guy
Side B:
Jungle Strut
Blue Velvet
Ger-Ru


“Jug” was a nickname cast upon Ammons by singer and bandleader Billy Eckstine, whose band Ammons was part of in the mid forties, like so many future modern jazz giants as Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt. One day the band checked out new hats in a store. When Eckstine found out the enormous hat size of Ammons, he blurted out: ‘You jug-head motherfucker!’ The name, shortened to “Jug”, stuck. Shortly after, Ammons had his first big-selling song with 1947’s Red Top. The ballad My Foolish Heart, which had been in the book of Eckstine’s band, was next, a smash hit in 1951. The Prestige albums of Ammons sold well, especially 1960’s Boss Tenor, which spawned the popular Canadian Sunset, and 1962’s Bad! Bossa Nova. At that time, Ammons had become a heroin addict. Already having done stints in jail in the fifties, now the law put him away not only for possession but also selling narcotics, a sure sign that Ammons was abused as a symbol of ‘the degenerate, black musician’. He had to put up with a staggering seven-year sentence.

During those years of 1962-69, Prestige kept his name in the spotlight as best as it possibly could, releasing a number of albums with material from the vaults. Nevertheless, upon the release of Ammons from jail in 1969, the label was curious if the big-toned melodist could still deliver. The answer was affirmative with a capital A. Ammons had honed his chops in prison. The homecoming concert at Chicago’s Plucked Nickel in the fall of ’69 (the liner notes say) was a succes, the following gigs in Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia likewise. New York? No, Ammons wasn’t allowed to play in the Big Apple. A bunch of bureaucrats from the liquor board kept “Jug” out of town. Except for the studio of Rudy van Gelder, where Ammons recorded the well-received The Boss Is Back! and, subsequently, Brother Jug! and The Black Cat!. In between, Prestige released a live album with Dexter Gordon, The Chase!.

Meanwhile, the health of Ammons had detoriated considerably. Ammons passed away in 1974 at the age of forty-nine. They had to dug for “Jug”. At his funeral Sonny Stitt, whom Ammons had been associated with regularly throughout his career, played My Buddy. One of the best friends of Ammons, tenor saxophonist Prince James, also performed. James is featured on Brother Jug as well, on the last track of the album, Ger-Ru, which also includes Junior Mance, the pianist who’d been part of an early Ammons group.

The rest, however, consists of an organ combo including organist Sonny Philips and one of Prestige’s house rhythm sections of bassist Bob Bushnell and drummer Bernard Purdie. Solid groove music assured. The loose, tough-as-nails version of Son Of A Preacher Man is a ringer, while the flagwaving shuffle blues He’s A Real Gone Guy, a song from r&b singer Nellie Lutcher, conjures up images of loved ones leaning against the wall, drowning each other with drunken, smeary kisses. Every Gene Ammons album of the late sixties and early seventies has a stand-out track. On Brother Jug, it’s Jimmy Webb’s Didn’t We, a ballad that finds Ammons at the top of his unsurpassed, unique game of level-headed drama. Soon, as Ammons would grow more ill, his form would understandably falter. But for the moment, “Jug” was back at the forefront of entertaining and hi-level soul jazz.

Scroll down on the Spotify link to listen to most of the Brother Jug album. Well, The Boss Is Back is also pretty swell.