Gene Ammons recorded for Prestige three decades, from 1950 almost to his death in 1974. This work was been compiled into three Greatest Hits
volumes, and each has its own flavor. His sides in the 'Fifties concentrated on blues and jam sessions, with all-star casts. The 'Sixties brought small group efforts, emphasizing slow ballads and an easy-going attack from Ammons. Then came seven years (1962-69) of prison. He had been diagnosed with emphysema. In order to sever ties with a former manager, he signed away his royalties. In the midst of this turmoil, his old label offered him the most lucrative contract in its history. He responded with a flurry of activity, the cream of which is represented here. To put it simply, he met all expectations.
The sound here is an updated Ammons, in keeping with the funky jazz of the era. (To give you an idea, two of the tracks previously appeared on the CD Legends of Acid Jazz: Gene Ammons.) A good example of this new sound is heard in the opening cut, "The Jungle Boss." Over a piano line reminiscent of Lee Morgan's "Cornbread", Ammons charges with a faster and more aggressive attack than on his 'Sixties sides. Often described as a blend of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, here he sounds more growly, even strident at times. He had his horn with him in prison, and wrote a lot of tunes, some of which are heard here. For all the world it sounds as if Ammons is trying to make up for lost time: "Did you miss me?" The tunes, and the enthusiasm with which they are delivered, make you cherish his return.
The supporting cast more than does its part. While past Prestige sessions kept to two basic formats, the 'Seventies dates were quite varied, with a 4-piece organ combo, several groups from 7 to 10 pieces, and his first-ever sessions with strings. The players include a mix of old players (Candido and Sonny Stitt, who had played with Ammons in the 'Fifties) and new breed, including organists and funk guitarists who do a lot to modernize the sound here. Praise also goes to the string arrangements by William Fischer (later to arrange McCoy Tyner's Fly With the Wind ) no block of sweet sound, but a barrage of different voices that enhance Ammons without drowning him.
The end result of this album (especially if you only know Ammons from his earlier work) is to appreciate a new approach from an old pro, and to regret his seven-year absence from the recording studio.