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The days of honest to God soul jazz are probably long gone. It's hard to even remember all the good players who stretched out over some well-known R & B or dug deep into a meaningful blues. They packed all the clubs and their records, one a month it seemed, sold like crazy. Somewhere along the way people started taking jazz seriously. Maybe a bit too seriously.
Guitarist Paul Bollenback, though, comes from a crowd that seems most capable of reintroducing soul to jazz. Consider his fine work in the last decade with organist Joey DeFrancesco or even Gary Thomas or fellow Washington, DC area, natives Ron Holloway or Greg Hatza. Bollenback brings the flair of a fine technician to each of these groups. But he ain't afraid to chew the fat and growl out his own down and dirty thoughts along the way. Sort of the way Kenny Burrell or Grant Green did in more fabled days.
For his third date as a leader, Bollenback continues his explorations of popular fare. Unlike the contemporary covers he chose for his previous disc, 1997's Double Gemini, here he delves back to a mostly-familiar menu of Motown-era songs. Reuniting the trio that made the previous disc so interesting, Bollenback enlists former boss Defrancesco and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts to bring it all off and adds a small horn section for punctuation and on two songs, Broto Roy's inviting tabla.
Throughout, Bollenback engages with witty, near-sparkling playing, suggesting a CTI session George Benson never made or the kind Wes Montgomery might make today if he were to record for Prestige (which he never did). DeFrancesco's Lonnie-more-than-Jimmy Smith contribution may be the initial attraction and, in fact, the lingering appeal. But the guitarist and the organist certainly share a dynamic chemistry that most clearly recalls Wes and Jimmy (outlined beautifully on Bollenback's "Blues For Joe D.").
What's most notable about Soul Grooves, though, is Bollenback's masterful reconsideration of the pop material he covers. The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" gets turned into a slow, ultra-bluesy burner that somehow suggests Gershwin's "Summertime" and elicits exceptional spots for DeFranscesco and alto sax man Steve Wilson.
The Temptations' "My Girl" becomes a waltz that transmogrifies into steamy funk and back while the Supremes' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is zapped of sap by getting samba-fied (Bollenback's playing, informed by past masters, is most notable on these two pieces and sounds like signature work).
Another highlight, Stevie Wonder's "Too High," adds tabla and features great spots for both Bollenback and DeFrancesco, although the tasteful and unobtrusive horn punctuation here and throughout doesn't have the verve or wit of similarly-inclined John Scofield arrangements. Bollenback's three originals are, perhaps, of lesser interest but certainly not out of place either. And two tracks (one solo) feature some very attractive playing from Bollenback on a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar.
Soul Grooves perfectly describes what Bollenback is up to here. It's also an apt description of where he's coming from. His vocabulary is familiar and still very much his own and, if nothing else, may serve well to reacquaint listeners with that delicious stew known as soul jazz. If he anyone can get the feeling back again, Paul Bollenback can.
Songs:Too High; Papa Was A Rolling Stone; 'Til Tomorrow; Beautiful Garden; Blues For Joe D.; My Girl; Ain't No Mountain High Enough; From A Dream; Dock Of The Bay; Visions.
Players:Paul Bollenback: guitar; Joey DeFrancesco: organ; Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums; Jim Rotundi: trumpet; Steve Wilson: alto sax; Eric Alexander: tenor sax; Steve Davis: trombone; Broto Roy: tabla.