Bobby Hutcherson in 1968: Patterns

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

An artist whose musical prowess can still be felt in today’s youth-centric jazz scene, Bobby Hutcherson cut his teeth in the service of such legends as Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp and Jackie McLean. His choice of instruments, the vibraphone, may have kept him out of the limelight — earning him favorable reviews but never achieving super stardom on the international scene. Hutcherson’s notoriety had as much to do with his recordings as sideman as his sessions as leader. When Hutcherson did take helm of a session modern jazz listeners were sure to enjoy the transcendent mix of cerebral compositions and angular interplay. His playing was different from his contemporaries on the instrument, more lyrical and mellower perhaps — at least in the post-avant-garde years. In the early to mid-60s, however, one could hear his percussive accents beaten out blacksmith-style.

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Patterns, 1968

The late-60s witnessed the emergence of another side of Hutcherson, still brimming with creativity, although, without the blunt-nosed abandon of his younger days. He also maintained the company of forward-thinking musicians, all of whom were virtuosos in their own right. An outstanding recording exemplifying this matured approach is Patterns from 1968 on the Blue Note Records label. It begins on a mysterious note with the track “Effi” — Stanley Cowell’s composition dedicated to his wife. With the feel of traversing through a dark, dense forest, “Effi” captivates the listener and moves him to another place altogether. James Spaulding’s flute solo weaves a fine tapestry — one with all the filigree to be expected, yet, all the while holding the listener in a somber state of mind. “Effi”, and more specifically Spaulding and Hutcherson’s interplay, reminds one of all the beauty in this world in spite of its dark corners.

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Joe Chambers, drums. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

“A Time to Go”, composed by Spaulding as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is perhaps the most melancholy track Hutcherson ever cut as a leader, with the possible exception of “Bouquet” from his 1966 outing on Happenings, also on Blue Note. More a vehicle for Spaulding’s extended flute solo, “A Time To Go” offers up reflection, heavy with emotion. Spaulding’s high notes are tightly crisp and his buoyant ideas are kept modern and succinct, never overtly saccharine.

On Patterns, Spaulding dishes out some of his best, and sadly underrated, alto work alongside Hutcherson’s bright vibes.

In stark contrast, the title track brings with it a sense of lilting intensity. On Patterns, Spaulding dishes out some of his best, and sadly underrated, alto work alongside Hutcherson’s bright vibes. Both race toward their respective ends in quick and sure-footed solos. Heated interplay is key to this track and its non-stop action doesn’t disappoint.

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Stanley Cowell, piano

Irina, which pulls a drowsy cover over this session, resonates with the same sense of loss found in “A Time To Go”. Stanley Cowell’s delicate solo work on piano is pushed to the forefront. It’s a classic Hutcherson ballad, much in the same vein as “When You Are Near” on Happenings or “Summer Nights” on Stick Up! both from 1966.

On the last track, Nocturnal, drummer/composer Joe Chambers makes use of Reggie Workman on double bass as pure foundation. Workman, a jazz veteran at this point, lays down a deep groove on which Hutcherson and Spaulding effortlessly skate across — pushing and pulling the composition in many directions. Spaulding’s alto emerges out of Hutcherson’s driving solo and soars upward and out, breaking through the cacophony laid down by the outside-minded Chambers on the kit. “Nocturnal” proves to be focused and wild all at once, a brilliant piece of jazz and an ideal end to a truly unique and personal listening experience.

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Jazz Collecting: Artists & Labels

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

After suffering the impacts of the pandemic, namely unemployment and quarantine, I, like many others, have afforded myself some time. And time is definitely something one can use more of when collecting jazz. So, with this extra time at home I’ve been able to take stock of my personal collection. To be fair, it’s not one of those vast collections where you need a separate listening room or zip code to appreciate. It’s relatively modest but stocked with artists and labels that I believe merit repeated listening.

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Like many other collectors, my entrée into Hard Bop was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on Blue Note Records. My first jazz album purchase was “At the Cafe Bohemia – Volume One”. I have to confess, not knowing much about the genre at the time and being a designer, I chose it simply for its typographic cover—a decision I never regretted. Thank you, John Hermansader.

As for the actual recordings, I’m one of those collectors who, for the most part, sticks to certain labels for the bulk of his collection. ECM and Blue Note Records are great examples of this approach. Rule of thumb, if you find one or two artists you really enjoy on one label there’s a good chance you’ll find more—appreciation through chance discovery. Although with certain artists, Bill Evans for example, labels matter less. If you follow an artist throughout his or her career you’ll find that oftentimes they skip around—usually pursuing the best contract or more creative freedom.

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A true visionary in every sense of the word, Miles Davis trailblazed the far reaches of jazz. His second great quintet, including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, represents the quintessential modern jazz group in my book—conceptual, explorative and intelligent.

As with Bill Evans, you’ll find a fanbase that rallies around a particular period in the recording career of an artist. Take the distinguished career of Miles Davis, there are diehard fans of Miles’ first great quintet and their associated record label, Prestige. Others may gravitate toward Miles’ second great quintet on Columbia Records or his later electric outings on the same label. John Coltrane is another artist who produced many divided camps. He had a successful early solo career on Prestige and Blue Note, then moved to Atlantic with his first great quartet in the early-60s, and then Impulse! Records in the mid-60s which found him exploring more avant-garde avenues with personnel that would prove to be in flux.

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The often imitated Bill Evans has made his way back into my collection for over twenty years. One can easily hear echoes of Evans in the works of many contemporary artists. His years on the Riverside label with his first trio are still one of my favorite periods of his—romantic, subtle and introspective. If you’re not already familiar with Evans, try spinning a couple of his critically-acclaimed albums, “Portrait in Jazz” (1960) and “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” (1961).

If you’re a completist, like myself, you’ll collect from every recording period of a favorite artist—oftentimes picking and choosing particular albums based on year recorded, personnel or audio fidelity. Bill Evans, one of my perennial favorites, definitely falls into the multi-period, multi-label category. His first trio on the Riverside label, featuring Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, defined the gold standard for jazz trios. A deft and cohesive unit famous for anticipating each others’ actions. After the untimely death of bassist, Scott LaFaro (one of my personal jazz heroes), Bill Evans began to move around with solo and trio stints on Verve, Blue Note, Fantasy and Warner. There are hardcore first trio fans who only swear by the early Riverside recordings as a measure of Bill Evans’ improvisational genius. As for myself, I can appreciate all his outings, be it solo, trio or third stream. If you find an artist who really hits a chord you’ll follow him or her anywhere.

If you’re a completist, like myself, you’ll collect from every recording period of a favorite artist—oftentimes picking and choosing particular albums based on year recorded, personnel or audio fidelity.

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Keith Jarrett, a virtuoso pianist with an uncanny ability to improvise lengthy solo concerts, gained his global following on the ECM label. Although he led groundbreaking groups, including his long-lived trio, he became best known for his solo output. His massive “Sun Bear Concerts” 1978 box set, showcasing over six-and-a-half hours of very personal music, is an achievement hard to be matched by any performing artist, past or present.

By following an artist from one label to another one can also experience the creative growth an artist achieves. Some Coltrane fans lament his move to Impulse! Records as it would eventually showcase his interest in spiritualism and the avant-garde which, regrettably, shed some of his followers who were only interested in his modal music. Another artist who would truly come into his own because of his association with a particular label is Keith Jarrett. His early career as sideman to jazz masters Art Blakey, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis on various labels would eventually jettison him to a famed solo career starting at Atlantic Records in the late-60s. But it wasn’t till his move to ECM in 1971, for an astonishing 49-year partnership, where he would flourish and rise to international fame with unprecedented live solo recordings such as Solo Concerts: Bremen and Lausanne (1973), The Köln Concert (1975), The Sun Bear Concerts (1976/78), and Concerts: Bregenz/München (1982).

So, be it artist-centric or label-centric, starting and maintaining a jazz collection will always prove fruitful, especially if the listener devotes time to enjoy the fruits.

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Reid Miles: 500 Album Covers can’t be wrong

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

 

The man with a thousand layouts up his sleeve, Reid Miles has been a major influence on my personal design aesthetic throughout my career. His style exudes modernism with the occasional nod to the Bauhaus and International Style—God was always in the details.

Miles began working at Blue Note Records in the late-50s where he would go on to design almost 500 record sleeves. He typically worked on tight deadlines, oftentimes restricted to a 2-color palette and limited typefaces. He would at times hand-cut his own letterforms to realize some of his concepts, some of which are still emulated to this day. Layouts would range from economical and austere to complex and detailed with the occasional visual pun.

Layouts would range from economical and austere to complex and detailed with the occasional visual pun.

Among Miles’ collaborators, Blue Note co-founder, Francis Wolff, was his most prolific. Wolff doubled as staff photographer on hundreds of album covers—offering jazz enthusiasts intimate artist portraiture taken during and throughout recording sessions.

The early-60s witnessed the multi-faceted Miles adding photography to his list of duties, which would soon usher in a dramatic career change in the mid-60s and ultimately his departure from Blue Note. His photographic style proved to be just as modern and forward thinking as his layouts—displaying an interest in experimental techniques and the avant-garde.

The handful of album covers chosen to illustrate this post typifies Miles’ recognizable design and playful photography.

 
 
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Breaking Point, 1964
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Steppin’ Out, 1963
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Wahoo, 1964
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Some Other Stuff, 1964
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Maiden Voyage, 1965
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Out To Lunch, 1964
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Free Form, 1961
 
 

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Herbie Hancock and the Shock of the New

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

After the release of his 1970 Warner album, Mwandishi, Herbie Hancock was well on his way to introducing electronics to his brand of jazz. His top-flight team of improvisers made it that much easier to make the transition to fusion. Although naysayers were wrapped around Hancock’s funky hard bop from his Blue Note years, there was an audience to be had with this new free-form, electric jazz.

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Mwandishi, 1970

Miles Davis had already taken off with his 1969 Columbia release, Bitches Brew, plus a handful of live recordings which featured an even edgier take on his dark vision. Hancock’s work, by comparison, did not display the raw bravado of Davis’, its strength, rather, lied with its creator’s love affair with technology and the possibilities it could bring to his music.

Hancock’s work, by comparison, did not display the raw bravado of Davis’, its strength, rather, lied with its creator’s love affair with technology and the possibilities it could bring to his music.

This love affair becomes all the more evident in Hancock’s next Warner release, 1971’s Crossings. He pulls out all the stops here, adding an additional voice in Dr. Patrick Gleeson on Moog synthesizer. Here, Hancock crosses over to an avant-garde realm only visited briefly, and acoustically, on his already long resume. With banks of synthesizers, Hancock plugs in and creates a world wholly his own.

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Crossings, 1971

Although the Davis influences are impossible to deny, it’s Hancock’s own genius in multilayered arrangements that forges each piece into something unique. With track titles like “Quasar” and “Water Torture” it’s obvious this isn’t the laid back hard bop of years past — the future is now. The opener, “Sleeping Giant”, is just that — a giant. It’s a near 25-minute roller coaster of a suite incorporating Hancock’s new electronic instrumentation. Changing tempos, frenetic drumming, and the blips and chirps from synths soon show the way to a new approach that will eventually be more fully embraced on Hancock’s next release.

Experimentation abounds, much of Sextant sounds as if it was created live in a science lab setting.

Hancock’s debut on Columbia Records is an album that some may consider menacing to say the least. 1972’s Sextant is a full-on fusion album, quite literally equal parts man and machine. Experimentation abounds, much of Sextant sounds as if it was created live in a science lab setting. I like to call this sub-genre of music Sci-fi Jazz. Much of the album sounds like a funky, and oftentimes frightening, soundtrack to a science fiction journey. The opener, “Rain Dance”, sets the spacey mood with a flurry of electronic effects which carry throughout the piece and register as electronic water drops. Perhaps giving credence to the surrealistic album cover as a sort of alien dance ritual.

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Sextant, 1972

The second of the three tracks is “Hidden Shadows” and is indeed dark. And for all the percussion, synths and alien effects there is still the signature Hancock sound that musters familiarity right off. The keyboard chordings, the solos and the group harmonies — all transplanted from Hancock’s former life at Blue Note. There is a theme that continues to reign in the blowing and keyboard wizardry to keep “Hidden Shadows” as the most conservative and least likely to scare off the uninitiated.

The crowning achievement on this album is the final piece, “Hornets”. Abstract and nearly inaccessible, it begs further inspection. The redundant use of kazoo instills the frenzy of the track’s namesake. There are Fender Rhodes passages with free blowing over top in this 20-minute piece that sound reminiscent of Davis’ live outings from the same period. There was something undeniably in the water back then. Sometimes, I wish that certain something would make a return posthaste.

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Art Blakey’s Hardest Hits

By Carl Glatzel, Editor
Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

This isn’t jazz, it’s war. On February 10, 1964 Art Blakey enlisted the aid of a special ops unit for his trailblazing mission — Free For All. This edition of the Jazz Messengers was the quintessential hard bop lineup and the perfect team for the job. The frontline was a heavily-armed triple threat consisting of Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax and Curtis Fuller on trombone. Cedar Walton on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Art Blakey on drums brought up the rear and had the near impossible task of grounding this tour de force. Blakey was a well-known beast on the skins — infamously destroying drum kits on stage — and was relentless on the Shorter-penned title track, which opens the album. There’s no slow build here, it’s an all-out assault from the word go. Blakey pounds away with everything at his disposal while the frontline crashes through the gate as if charging a bunker amid heavy shelling. With Blakey’s detonations blasting all around, each horn takes an extended solo while weaving through their fearless leader’s tumult. After a glorious 11-minute show of bravado from all parties the finale ends with a classic example of Blakey’s pure adrenal rush on the kit — a thunderous roar followed by a single hit on the hi-hat and then peaceful silence. An outright classic and well worth the price of admission.

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Free For All, 1964. For all its bravado and firepower there is an overarching sense of control and forward motion on this Jazz Messengers album.

By this outing, Shorter was at the very top of his creative game and shortly after he would be on his way to joining the fabled Miles Davis Quintet as its principal composer. On this album we have two great works by Shorter — displaying his versatile style in all its glory. The second track, “Hammer Head”, another Shorter original, is cooler than the bombastic opener and moves with a well-defined swagger. This is classic Blakey material where his famous press rolls and shouts introduce soloists who take the floor with commanding flair.

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Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone. A follower of Coltrane, Shorter’s tenor is still one of the most distinguishable in modern jazz. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

The third track, “The Core”, is a Hubbard original and another cooker. This piece is a great example of Hubbard’s writing ability and another great showcase for the raw power behind this seamless unit. I’ve always been of mind that Hubbard played to his full creative potential as a sideman at Blue Note rather than session leader. His outings on both the Atlantic and CTI labels in the late-60s and early-70s have always been go-to listening to these ears.

I’ve always been of mind that Hubbard played to his full creative potential as a sideman at Blue Note rather than session leader.

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Freddie Hubbard, trumpet. A bright, muscular tone and chops to match, Hubbard’s performance on this session sizzles. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

The last track, a Clare Fischer composition, will throw you for a loop. Suddenly, and most dramatically, a truce is called and “Pensativa” is the white flag. This laid-back bossa tune would be right at home on a Hank Mobley album of the same period. It clocks in at just under 8-and-a-half minutes and is a sheer joy to listen to. We finally hear the bright, clarion call of Hubbard’s pristine trumpet and Blakey’s effortless timekeeping. “Pensativa” balances out this amazing album to create a truly unique recording — one which rewards fans with new insights upon repeat listenings.

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The Curious Case of Baby Face

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Roosevelt Willette, aka “Baby Face”, was somewhat of a mystery man. Even his birthplace is disputed — it might have been Little Rock or possibly New Orleans. One thing is for certain, however, his appearance on the jazz scene couldn’t have been more serendipitous. In the late 50s he met soon-to-be labelmates, Lou Donaldson and Grant Green, in New York after a move from Chicago. Donaldson, acting as unofficial scout for Blue Note Records, was a catalyst in signing both Willette and Green to the label. Willette’s soulful touch on the Hammond B3 reflected his gospel background and would later become a high-water mark, if not a significant footnote, in Blue Note’s storied past.

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Face To Face, 1961

Armed with a big, bluesy sound and brimming with raw emotion, Willette would go on to lead his own groups on two outings in 1961 — both excellent sessions: Face to Face and Stop and Listen. Each group featured Grant Green on guitar and Ben Dixon on drums. Willette’s first session, Face to Face, added the earthy, southern swagger of Fred Jackson on tenor — duck calls, squawks and all.

By the time of his debut as a leader Willette had an original sound pinned down — easily giving similar units such as Smith/Burrell and Turrentine/Scott a run for their money. Although it was early in the recording careers of each member, his group played like weathered professionals — effortlessly belting out greasy, gospel-tinged lines in flawless Blue Note fashion. Even Willette’s sideman contributions on Lou Donaldson’s Here ‘Tis and Grant Green’s Grant’s First Stand are standout examples of Soul Jazz at its finest. There was no doubting it, the man had the golden touch. It was a crying shame he didn’t get to record more for the label. With regular creative partners such as Grant Green, Lou Donaldson and Ben Dixon, Willette could have gone on to record several more albums in the same vein, perhaps even exploring larger group settings or varied instrumentation. Instead, he mysteriously left Blue Note and resurfaced a few years later on the Argo label cutting two more sessions as leader in 1964 — neither hitting the heights of his earlier efforts.

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Here ‘Tis, 1961

After Argo, Willette left recording altogether and made his way back to the live jazz scene in Chicago where he played from 1966 till his untimely death in 1971. How on Earth could such a natural talent fade away into utter obscurity? Willette’s chops were, arguably, on par with the likes of Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff. And yet, he wholly owned an original and identifiable sound — something quite difficult to achieve in a climate dominated by the innovators of his instrument of choice. Was there a falling out with his collaborators or label chiefs? Or did he pose a threat to more established artists on the roster? Unanswered questions and a handful of excellent tracks are all that’s left of “Baby Face” Willette’s checkered and mysterious recording career.

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Grant Green and Idris Muhammad

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Deemed as the original funky drummer, Muhammad played a pivotal role on several Blue Note sides throughout the late 60s and early 70s. His unique and immediately recognizable sound propelled Blue Note Records into the world of jazz funk and inspired legions of followers along the way. The drummer usually found himself teamed up with the label’s heavy hitters of the day, Lou Donaldson and Grant Green were among his esteemed recording partners.

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Idris Muhammad, drums. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

The year 1969 marked a rebirth of sorts for the jazz guitarist and the beginning of a fertile partnership with Muhammad firmly planted behind the drum kit — a match made in heaven.

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Grant Green, guitar. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

His infectious backbeat graced one certain standout 1969 Grant Green recording, Carryin’ On. Muhammad laid down a solid foundation for Green’s airy, explorative lines which focused on the lighter side of the guitarist’s funk repertoire. This was a standout session for Green because it marked the beginning of a new direction in his recording career. He intentionally moved into a more economically-viable vein within the label, for obvious reasons. However, unlike some of his peers, he excelled at this new sub-genre and went on to record several inspired studio and live sessions, including the excellent Live at Club Mozambique in 1971. The year 1969 marked a rebirth of sorts for the jazz guitarist and the beginning of a fertile partnership with Muhammad firmly planted behind the drum kit — a match made in heaven.

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Big John Patton’s “Understanding” Misunderstood

By Carl Glatzel, Editor
Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

I usually use AllMusic.com as a litmus test for unfamiliar recordings. I’m glad I went with my gut when I found a 1995 Blue Note re-issue of Big John Patton’s Understanding at a local, used book store. If I had gone with the AllMusic critic’s opinion I would have avoided it like the plague and tossed it aside. For the uninitiated, Patton is an organist who came to prominence on the Blue Note label in the early-60s. He was known for his economical, modern approach and inspired, bluesy solos. One of the few organists of the era to dodge the Jimmy Smith comparison.

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Understanding, 1968

After outputting a handful of releases with label regulars Grant Green and Lou Donaldson he ventured off into some uncharted territory. The 1968 release Understanding is not truly a dramatic departure but it does house some free playing by saxophonist Harold Alexander and that is what AllMusic took issue with. It’s stated to somehow interrupt the groove and comes across as disjointed and out of place. Perhaps to the untrained ear, or to a listener not familiar with or accustomed to the unorthodox sounds of Pharaoh Sanders or the other artists from the Impulse! New Thing stable. Alexander’s playing is by no means that of Peter Brotzman or a young Gato Barbieri. To these ears, it comes off as more to do with exuberance, where the spirit of the session takes the helm. Understanding still defaults to a soul jazz category and it’s easy to dismiss free (or freer) playing in this arena, but one listen to this vibrant interplay and you’ll fall into the groove and won’t want to leave. Patton is at the top of his game and his bandmates push him to his swinging limit. The trio is rounded off by Hugh Walker on drums who gives his all — keeping a steady, turbulent backbeat under the soulful wailing laid down by Patton and Alexander. This is music to drive to, you’ll want to be moving and moving quickly.

Patton is at the top of his game and his bandmates push him to his swinging limit.

Right from the opener “Ding Dong” you know exactly where you stand – this is some heavy-duty soul and these players aren’t about to let up. That’s what’s so enticing about this particular release, the raw sounds of Alexander’s sax really churns the already boiling pot. Each player builds on one another adding more fuel to the fire, keeping things interesting. This certainly isn’t the Soul Jazz recordings of previous years — dare I say — in some ways it’s even better. Patton proves he’s not afraid to go out on a limb with a loose canon like Alexander. The addition of Walker on drums is a great move, his style adds some necessary backbone to help ground a free range player like Alexander. Patton is spot on, as usual, with soloing and his signature basslines. It’s Patton’s buoyant, almost hypnotic, bass that really adds a sense of forward motion to each track. His lines are deceptively simple, undulating deep down under Walker’s rock-steady drumming — the album’s blood and guts.

This certainly isn’t the Soul Jazz recordings of previous years — dare I say — in some ways it’s even better.

It’s now time to go out and seek this holy grail of groove. And when you do, you’ll want to turn up your hi-fi and tune out the naysayers.

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