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CD Review

 

 

Jack McDuff - The Honeydripper
Prestige
        As a rabid fan of the organ-groove sub-genre of jazz, I've been waiting a few years for this classic album by organist extraordinaire Jack McDuff to be re-issued. While I had seen older versions of this album floating around both new and used, I had heard through the grapevine this set was in the queue to be given the remastering treatment as part of the Rudy Van Gelder (the producer) series. The same thing Van Gelder has been doing for Blue Note is done for Prestige with this album, which is remastering done by Van Gelder himself. Believe me when I say there is no one better to remaster an album than Van Gelder. He was there when they were made and he knows how they are supposed to sound.
        But, I digress. Back to McDuff.
        So, I waited. And waited. All the time wanting to hear this legendary Holy Grail of an album. Eventually, I got this newly remastered version in the mail and hurriedly took off the shrink wrap (which can never actually be done in a hurry - why is that?) and popped it in my player. After a few years of anticipation, I figured I would end up thinking it wasn't all the hype had said it would be. Guess what? The hype wasn't hype enough! This album is fucking great! It's not just a classic of the organ groove sub-genre of jazz, but is a masterpiece the whole jazz world can look upon as something astounding and groundbreaking. As much as Miles Davis' The Birth of The Cool is held up as a classic example of jazz music, The Honeydripper should hold that same distinction. That it probably doesn't says a lot about how the jazz snobs sometimes look down on the organ as a viable instrument in jazz despite how may fans enjoy it.
         McDuff started his career as a bassist, which may be one reason why the basslines he provides with his footpedals are among the funkiest of all of the B-3 titans. That McDuff didn't serve his musical apprenticeship on the piano as most organists might be the reason his work is just a little more funky, a little more rooted in R&B than most other organists. He later did learn how to play piano, but never really let the rigors and inherent qualities of that instrument overly influence his organ playing. He always managed to keep his organ playing soulful and direct, and never seemed to overplay as most pianists do.
         Also featuring the talents of Grant Green on guitar (his recording debut!), Jimmy Forrest on tenor sax, and drummer Ben Dixon, this album shows McDuff embracing a smoother style as he eschews his former hard-bop tack to go for a more R&B sound, no doubt influenced by how well Jimmy Smith was doing. Besides the exemplary work by McDuff, one need pay special attention to what Green does on this album. Always more than just your average sideman, Green shows a taste of what would soon make him one of the most influential guitarists in jazz. Though I wish McDuff and Green had recorded together more, soon McDuff helped out a young guitarist by the name of George Benson and a lot of equally great music was made with that tandem. Though he's gone now, McDuff will always live through albums like this one. This may be one of his best and best known, but McDuff has many, many great albums that you should explore. I would start with this one, though, as great organ playing doesn't get any greater than what McDuff laid down on this album right here.
         This album will appeal to fans of jazz and especially fans of the B-3 groove as this is one of the stone-cold classics of the groove jazz sub-genre. This is an album just made to be played at parties as the groove is insistent and undeniable. You can't keep a sad face while this music is playing. It is impossible and topping that, to keep your feet still while listening to it is a herculean task. It's music that just makes you feel good inside and brings up only the great memories of things like youth, love and anything fun you've ever done. This is an album that will easily change your life if you let it. And God, you should let it. - Scott Homewood

www.prestigerecords.com

 

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