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Organist Babyface Willette (born 1933) had a very brief career during the early sixties. His only real gig was grinding the B-3 in the Lou Donaldson band that featured guitarist Grant Green. He was also heard on Green's Blue Note debut and two pretty good juke-joint Blue Note dates of his own (also featuring Green). In 1964, Willette recorded two even better dates for Argo. Behind the 8 Ball is the last and best of these - and also the last time Willette was ever heard on record. Recently issued in Japan as part of MCA's 20-bit "Soul Jazz Collection" (a celebration of ten mid-sixties Argo Jazz originals with short programs and cool cover art in tact), Behind the 8 Ball smokes some of the hottest, grooviest organ jazz imaginable - and catches Willette at his very best. This stuff hits heavier than any of the well-rehearsed music Willette recorded for Blue Note.
Take the title track, a Willette original, for example. It's like a drag race over hot coals. Willette's "Song of the Universe," too, evokes the big bang that churns through the lava as if evolution is just a dance. "Tacos Joe" takes surf and rides the wave as if it's a matter of soul. Guitarist Ben White is a considerable factor for the music's success. He's a good foil and consistently takes a number of cool, finger-snapping soul-o's. But the opcorn maker's on when Willette lights into one of his syncopated solos. Much of his style originates from gospel and sits well in the blues. But he never relies on the familiar Jimmy Smith-like organ grinding to make his points. He can be subtle, without losing his grip on the groove and can hit hard without leaning too much on the pipes. It's amazing Behind the 8 Ball is only about half an hour long. It's like a party you don't want to end. But you realize it'd be hard to continuing partying that hard much longer. Behind the 8 Ball will be difficult (and expensive) to get a hold of, but it's worth it if you can.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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