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.

Eddie Harris' Mean Greens

Eddie Harris Mean Greens (Atlantic 1966)

Eddie Harris, free bird. Doesn’t let anyone tell him what to play, tears his shirt off his tenor body and delivers Mean Greens. A bubbling mix of innovative Latin rhythm, inherently groovy, soft-hued modern jazz and spirited chitlin’ circuit r&b.

Eddie Harris' Mean Greens

Personnel

Eddie Harris (tenor saxophone A1-4, B2, electric piano B1-3), Ray Codrington (trumpet, tambourine A1), Cedar Walton (piano A1-4), Sonny Philips (organ B1-3), Ron Carter (bass A1-4), Billy Higgins (drums A1-4), Melvin Jackson (bass B1-3), Bucky Taylor (drums B1-3), Ray Codrington, Ray Barretto & Bucky Taylor (percussion A1)

Recorded

on March 8 & 9 and June 7, 1966 in NYC

Released

as Atlantic 1453 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Mean Greens
It Was A Very Good Year
Without You
Yeah Yeah Yeah
Side B:
Listen Here
Blues In The Basement
Goin’ Home


It’s easily one of Harris’ best efforts. During his career, the tenor saxophonist’s albums met with a lot of suspicion that almost ran equal with their popularity. Albeit unfair, it was only human that ‘serious’ jazz buffs raised their eyebrows when the instant star Eddie Harris followed up his best-selling 1961 single Exodus To Jazz with a series of like-minded, smooth jazz albums on the VeeJay label. Who could blame Eddie? After playing for years in relative obscurity in his hometown Chicago, Harris finally made his (money) mark. Besides, even if the VeeJay (and subsequent Columbia-) albums leaned heavily on standards and popular concepts such as bossa nova and movie soundtracks, they were high caliber affairs and the style and tone of Harris was unmistakably individual. ‘Sell’ was appropriate, ‘out’ wasn’t.

That Eddie Harris was an upright musician who relished incorporating all sorts of influences into his modern jazz bag, became evident in his Atlantic years. Atlantic, where Harris recorded from 1965 till 1976, proved to be a well-suited canvas for the multi-instrumentalist’s bold strokes. Besides popular music, the label had been in the thick of avant-garde jazz since the late fifties and put a lot of weight into progressive rock in the late sixties, so it isn’t surprising that the label was happy to try for a successful mix of high and low brow. Yes, Harris’ strokes may have been too bold at times. Experimenting with the electric (Varitone) saxophone is a reasonable idea, toying with the ‘guitorgan’, the ‘saxobone’ and electric bongos indicates a lack of direction; his tongue-in-cheek r&b albums of the mid-seventies also were liable to scare off more than a few listeners. On the other hand, Harris’ wildly exciting r&b-drenched live cooperation with Les McCann in 1969, Swiss Movement and the follow-up, 1972’s Second Movement, proved to be two of the saxophonist’s most successful efforts.

Arguably, the Harris synthesis comes full circle on his late sixties output. Interestingly enough, Harris’ debut on Atlantic, the sizzling hard bop album The In Crowd (boasting the classic Freedom Jazz Dance, which was recorded just half a year later by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles), is Harris’ best album. His group of the time, including Billy Higgins and Ron Carter is out of sight. Less coherent, Mean Greens takes the silver medal. But wasn’t that the point? Taking a little risk, seeing where it leads to. At least that’s what the cover, portraying a saxy Jekyll and organistic Mr. Hyde, suggests.

Higgins and Carter are present on Mean Greens as well, on side A. The versatility of these modern jazz monsters (At the time, Carter was part of the legendary Miles Davis quintet, Higgins recorded with about everybody, both ‘in’ and ‘out’, including Ornette Coleman) is amazing. They adapt beautifully to the basically groovy Eddie Harris norms. Not only that, Higgins created the unusual beat of the title track Mean Greens. It does the trick, just like the rhythm he invented for Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man was the major push for the artistic succes and commercial appeal of those classic tunes.

Mean Greens, the exotic blues. Cedar Walton hits percussive, staccato piano chords. Harris and trumpeter Ray Codrington blow a playful minor theme over the solid bottom of Higgins and Carter. Obviously, Harris was eagerly awaiting for an entrance, as he’s immediately going into a furious free bag with the Eddie Harris touch: whether Harris is playing advanced or soft-hued, like in It Was A Very Good Year (one part of the proof that Exodus To Jazz wasn’t a tune from a one-trick-pony), the upper register sounds that Harris gets from his tenor, if not for everybody’s ears, are remarkable. When Exodus To Jazz was released, people thought Harris played the soprano. Utter control, phenomenal range.

Then side B, which has been the cause of an occasional spontaneous (combustive) party. Thank you Eddie Harris, for a friggin’ wonderful Saturday night! Listen Here’s irresistible charme lies within the Latin/New Orleans, loose-jointed, slow-draggin’ rhythm and the effective counterpoint of bass and organ. Meanwhile the lines of Eddie Harris’ electric piano slither like snakes, weaving in and out of the percussion-heavy, basic song structure. It’s rough-hewn, speaks to the loins, the body, speaks of Eros. It’s the first version Harris recorded of Listen Here. The second – slightly cleaner – rendition, released on The Electrifying Eddie Harris the following year in 1967, reached nr.11 on the Billboard r&b charts.

Via Blues In The Basement, a big-sounding 12-bar blues in which Harris mixes powerful Arnett Cobb-like barks with quicksilver bop runs and witty, second line guffaws, Harris takes the album out the way he would in a club, with the wild and woolly shuffle of Goin’ Home. Not your usual basic blues theme. A nifty, tricky stop-time theme catapults the B3 of Sonny Philips and the electric piano of Harris into action. There you are, transported to the sawdust-covered floors of a juke joint, or the Chicago South Side, or the chitlin’ circuit’s burgeoning bar life of lore… Goin’ Home fades out with a drum thunderstorm.

What went on in the mind of Eddie Harris? Let’s just do it, let’s just put together the Hammond organ and the electric piano. Let’s just burn the place down with some fat-bottomed blues, why not, yes we can! They can, they do, tear the grooves out of the mono vinyl. However, for all Harris’ swagger, it would be preposterous to define Harris’ electric organ/B3 feast as primitive music. Eddie Harris has advanced, killer chops and years of severe studying reveal the influence of Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, yet reveal above all a fresh, individual take on jazz which is 100% Harris: the tireless enthusiast.

I don’t think there was very much thought behind the dual concept of Mean Greens. It seems it was just a matter of putting to wax different facets of Eddie Harris. Whatever the processes behind the release may be, Harris was definitely bringing it back home.

tumblr_mzjeroU60P1qb68l7o1_1280

Boogaloo Joe Jones No Way! (Prestige 1971)

Look at that confident young man on the cover of No Way! Dressed in full funky regalia, caught in the action of playing a solid Gibson guitar, resolutely and in earnest. Boogaloo Joe Jones: sounds hip, dude. And the sleeve shows a man inclined to hit the big time. He wouldn’t, though. Boogaloo Joe Jones, sideman on a small number of soul jazz recordings, before disappearing into obscurity, nevertheless made a series of good albums for Prestige. No Way! is one of them.

tumblr_mzjeroU60P1qb68l7o1_1280

Personnel

Boogaloo Joe Jones (guitar), Grover Washington Jr. (tenor saxophone), Sonny Philips (organ, electric piano, A1 – A3, B2), Butch Cornell (organ, B1, B3), Jimmy Lewis (Fender bass), Bernard Purdie (drums)

Recorded

on November 23, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Released

as PR10004 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
No Way!
If You Were Mine
Georgia On My Mind
Side B:
Sunshine Alley
I’ll Be There
Holdin’ Back


It shows an uncanny ability to inject the blues, which is the basis of his style, into a repertoire of wide range. It might take a listen or two to connect the party-hardy, viciously outgoing funk of the title track to the sweet and sour white boy’s blues of If You Were Mine – recorded earlier by Ray Charles who’d gone c&w himself. But then it clicks.

In the former, there might be the risk of being blown away by the steamrolling tandem of funk jazz drum wizard Bernard Purdie and electric bassist Jimmy Lewis – a spicy stew – but Boogaloe Joe Jones devours it with relish and throws in punchy lines and fast-fingered licks. Its continuous climactic impulses might might wear one down a bit, but No Way! certainly rocks. Jones also does pretty well in the latter, in which his ‘twangy’ sound and inflected imitiation of the human voice is paramount to its innocent, hum-along charm. If You Were Mine also features a resonant solo by Grover Washington Jr.

So here we have a hip-shaking and eloquent recording of funk, blues, pop and country, jazzed up by a guitar player who, by the way, supposedly was nicknamed Boogaloo chiefly to avoid confusion with the likes of Philly Joe Jones and Jo Jones. Keep good company is what my grandma always used to say.