Jack McDuff Big Band: Prelude (2003)
McDuff was one of the artists able to capitalize on the success of Jimmy Smith, who briefly made organ combos fashionable in the sixties. Prelude is the third in a series of McDuff compilations that comb his prolific Prestige years for the best material. Whereas the first two were split between live and studio recordings, this recent disc covers the tracks recorded with a big band under the leadership of Benny Golson.
This new approach was an obvious attempt to attract a crowd who may have had their fill of Smith albums and were looking for something new, and thus features a lot less of the grease and blues that organ groups generally offer. However, a happy medium is achieved between the combo and the ensemble on the first half, which comprises one entire album.
The high-powered horn riffs adds an extra punch to the more standard fare, while adding subtlety to the more nuanced ventures like Prelude, a feat that the organ-guitar-drums setup could never have achieved. Everything clicks on the first half, but the rest of the album is laden with inferior material; in an attempt to carve out new territory for the organ, McDuff sacrifices a lot of what makes the setting compelling in the first place. The guitarists are buried in the mix and the arrangements are overly exacting and rehearsed, squelching the off the cuff jam session feel that predominates the best organ records.
Along with George Benson’s “Rock A Bye” – a serviceable blues – the only standout track is the Pink Panther Theme; what could have been a hackneyed version evolves into a steaming “Fables of Faubus” style workout in the middle. Except for these two tunes, the latter half is mostly forgettable, featuring too many tunes that just don’t fit the presentation, like the rinky-dink “English Country Gardens” and “Shortnin’ Bread.” The last four tracks were recorded late in the sixties and, given the times, represent the inevitably horrid outcome of a fixation on horn-driven rock’n’roll.
Still, it’s hard to argue against a collection that delivers a full album’s worth of great songs before it’s half over. Hardly essential, but those who've appreciated the other McDuff albums will find something to enjoy here.
Track Listing: 1. A Kettle of Fish 2. Candlelight 3. Put On A Happy Facce 4. Prelude 5. Mean To Me 6. Carry Me Home 7. Easy Living 8. Oh Look At Me Now 9. Dig Cousin Will 10. Theme (from 'The Carpetbaggers') 11. Theme (from 'The Pink Panther') 12. You'd Better Love Me 13. Once In A Lifetime 14. Rock-A-Bye 15. English Country Gardens 16. Shortnin' Bread 17. Walk On By 18. Talking Bout My Woman 19. Jersey Bounce 20. Too Many Fish in the Sea.
Personnel: Jack McDuff-organ; various personnel including George Benson, Pat Martino-guitar; Red Holloway, Harold Ousley-sax; Joe Dukes-drums; Bennie Golson-arranger.