Jimmy McGriff – Soul Sugar & Groove Grease (1971)

Jimmy McGriff
Soul Sugar / Goove Grease
Two albums both released 1971 on Groove Merchant
Reissue on Groove Hut Records 2007 (GH66704)
McGriff

1 Sugar Sugar
2 Ain’t It Funky Now
3 Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours
4 Dig on It
5 Bug Out
6 Now Thing
7 You’re the One
8 Fat Cakes
9 New Volume
10 Spirit in the Dark

McGriff

11 Groove Grease
12 Bird
13 Plain Brown Bag
14 There Will Never Be Another You
15 Canadian Sunset
16 Mr Lucky
17 Moonglow
18 Red Sails in the Sunset
19 Secret Love

I think the only way these two records could make me happier is if they opened up with a soul version of “Yummy Yummy Yummy I’ve Got Love in My Tummy.” Since it does not I suppose I can accept “Sugar Sugar” in its place. If this disc was any more fun it would be illegal. Before Jimmy Smith thought of covering pop and soul hits with marvelously funky results, Jimmy McGriff was already laying down cuts to make the jazz purists wince while turning up their erudite noses. McGriff didn’t care and doesn’t seem to have been restrained by such labels, often positioning himself as more of a blues player anyway. I have been meaning to do a post here about another fabulous Groove Merchant disk he did with soul-blues singer Junior Parker that is just amazing. All in good time, even though I’ve been thinking about doing that post for over a year now…

Since a great deal of songs on these two albums are all-instrumental covers of hit songs, you can feel free to use it at your next karaoke party. That is if you are not only prepared to tread the same musical ground as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and Aretha Franklin, but also spar with the infectious chops of Mr. McGriff. My guess is that he will upstage you. But feel free to give it a go.

A glance at the lineup on these two platters may not cause any names to jump out at some of you. But his musicians here all have a pretty impressive pedigree, having played with the likes of Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, Pharoah Sanders, B.B.King, Lonnie Liston Smith, Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, among others and many more. Particularly noteworthy is bassist Richard Davis who just dominates these two albums like the monster he was. He sometimes plays with a phasor enevelope-follower effect on his bass that adds a nice subtle twist to his tone.

Both albums also have fabulously tacky blaxploitation jackets, the better to arouse you with.

Weird side note: according to a friend of mine, the first three tracks of Groove Grease on this reissue are HDCD encoded. Although it’s not uncommon to find HDCD coding on discs that don’t mention it on the packaging, it is somewhat mysterious why they would encode three tracks and stop. I actually have an HDCD player packed away in a storage shed full of audio gear but I am not about to drag it out to verify this. I will take my friend’s word for it, and pass it on to you for what it’s worth.

I think anybody with a pulse will find themselves enjoying this music. And I promise I will have that collaboration with Junior Parker here before the year is out..

McGriff

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Hugh Masekela – Home Is Where the Music Is (1972)

 

Engineered by Rik Pekkonen
Recorded at Island Studios, London, January 1972
Remixed at Wally Heider Studios, Los Angeles
Art by Dumile Feni
Original package designed by Mphoeng Kgama
Graphic design and photo by Tom Wilkes and Barry Feinstein (Camouflage Production)

Review by Thom Jurek (AMG)

Released as a double LP on Chisa/Blue Thumb in 1972, Hugh Masekela’s Home Is Where the Music Is marked an accessible but sharp detour from his more pop-oriented jazz records of the ’60s. Masekela was chasing a different groove altogether. He was looking to create a very different kind of fusion, one that involved the rhythms and melodies of his native South Africa, and included the more spiritual, soul-driven explorations occurring in American music at the time on labels like Strata East, Tribe, and Black Jazz as well as those laid down by Gato Barbieri on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman imprint. The South African and American quintet he assembled for the date is smoking. It includes the mighty saxophonist Dudu Pakwana and drummer Makaya Ntshoko, both South African exiles; they were paired with American pianist Larry Willis and bassist Eddie Gomez, creating a wonderfully balanced, groove-oriented ensemble. Produced by Stewart Levine and composer Caiphus Semenya, this is a near mythic date that was reviewed favorably but infrequently back in the day.

The ten tunes here range between five and 11 minutes; half were written by Semenya, Masekela and Willis wrote one apiece, and the balance were covers — including a gorgeous arrangement of Miriam Makeba’s “Uhomé.” “Part of the Whole”opens the set with Willis on Fender Rhodes piano, with a lazy rolling blues groove that is equal parts soul-jazz and South African folk melody. The horns enter behind him playing a vamp before they ramp it up in the chorus twice before Pakwana takes his solo against the rhythm section. Willis’ sense of time is indomitable and the funky breaks laid down by Ntshoko are beautifully balanced by Gomez’s woody tone. Pakwana wails emotionally, swerving between post-bop and more free explorations. Masekela answers his solo on his flugelhorn in tight, hard blues lines. His flight remains inside with the rhythm section offering this deep groove-laden backing. It’s merely a taste of things to come however, as the following cut, Sekou Toure’s “Minawa,” makes clear. Willis opens it with his own solo backed by the rhythm section; his touch is deft, light, elegant, and deeply melodic. It feels like a different band until the horns enter. When they do, they open that intricate lyric line into waves of passion and restraint. Semenya’s “The Big Apple,” feels like a tune written by Ramsey Lewis with a horn section backing him. It’s all bass note groove, hypnotic repetition, and soulful blues before the horns get to move around one another and solo above Willis’ beautiful fills on the grand piano. This set marks the first appearance of Willis’ tune “Inner Crisis,” the title track of his debut solo LP which would appear a year later on Groove Merchant — only this time with an acoustic piano intro before moving to the Rhodes. This track is a funky spiritual jazz classic and this version may be better than his — largely due to this killer horn section. Other standouts include Kippie Moeketsi’s loping “Blues for Huey,” the ballad “Nomali,” and Masekela’s knotty, joyous “Maseru.” In sum, Home Is Where the Music Is, is a stone spiritual soul-jazz classic, that melds the sound of numerous emerging jazz schools in its pursuit of musical excellence; it succeeds on all counts and is one of the greatest recordings in Hugh Masekela’s long career. In a year full of amazing titles, this is still a standout.

 

There isn’t really much that Flabbergast can add to the thorough review above. It’s one of the (rare) instances where an AMG staffer got it right. It’s a fantastic record and one of Masekela’s best ensembles.