Guitarist Melvin Sparks will sound familiar to those who like the fatback soul-jazz of the late 60s and early 70s. That music has new life today as "acid jazz" and Sparks was a significant catalyst in its sound. He's ignited some of the better funk of Lou Donaldson ( Pretty Things and Cosmos ), Sonny Stitt ( Turn It On ), Charles Earland ( Black Talk ), Lonnie Smith ( Think ), Hank Crawford (the recent Tight ) and Rusty Bryant (Sparks' best-ever solo is in the title track to Bryant's 1970 album Soul Liberation ). He also released three solid solo disks on Prestige in 1970 and 1971 ( Sparks, Sparkplug and Akilah ), two excellent dates on Eastbound ( Texas Twister in 1973 and '75 in 1975) and Sparkling on Muse in 1981.
I'm A 'Gittar' Player is a welcome return to center stage for Melvin Sparks. It presents him the way he's meant to be heard, in mostly blues, funk or boogaloo modes. Sparks remains a hell of an interesting player; engaging with bright, fluid lines, well-placed twangs and catchy ostinatos. He's rawer and more deliberate than George Benson, but, like his nearest rival, Jimmy Ponder, really comes out of Grant Green's 'soul bag' and it's best to consider Sparks in this context.
Problem with I'm A 'Gittar' Player is, despite Ron Levy's terrific production and first-rate playing by the leader, nothing really stands out. Sparks ain't doing anything here he hasn't done just as well elsewhere. He hits highs on the bluesy "Balcony," the Latin-twang of "Jiggy," (featuring Pucho) the soulful "Boogie Street" and "Sparkling" but he's done this kinda thing before. If you like Sparks' playing - and it's really hard to dislike you'll appreciate the common ground. One minus, though: unnecessary vocals on the Texas grind of "All Day, All Night" and the crap-rap on an otherwise good blues version of K.C. & The Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight."
I'm A 'Gittar' Player won't change the world. But it's good to hear a good player doing what he does best.
Songs:Mr Texan; Balcony; Jiggy4; Boogie Street; I'm A 'Gittar' Player-1,2,3; Sparkling-2; Taste The Flavor; All Day All Night-1,2,3,8,9; Get Down Tonite-1,8,10.
Players:Melvin Sparks (guitar,vocals-1); Ed Pazant (alto sax); Ron Levy (organ); Fred McFarlane (Fender Rhodes, piano, clavinet); Danny Mixon (piano); Stanley Banks (electric bass2); Idris Muhammad (drums-3); Steve Kroon (percussion); Pucho (timbales-4); Idrissa Hassan8, Ayisha Hassan8, Kevin Bowler9 (vocals); Back-to-Back (rap vocals10).