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Bennie Green: Bennie Green: Soul Stirrin’ - 1958

Marc Davis By

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A bluesy, almost pre-bop record... This is soul before it became funky.
In the 1950s, Blue Note was a reliable bastion of hard bop. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers set the tone, and dozens of artists—some famous, some not—followed. But Blue Note also had small oases of not-bop, often by artists you've never heard of.

Bennie Green is one of those guys, and if you haven't heard him, you should. Specifically, you should hear Soul Stirrin'.

This is a bluesy, almost pre-bop record. Green plays trombone, but not in a J.J. Johnson bebop style. Much of Soul Stirrin' generally, and Green's playing in particular, have a swing feel. And much of it is just plain old, straight up blues.

It is an absolute pleasure.

Soul Stirrin' starts with the title song, a slow blues grind. This is soul before it became funky. Green plays fat, emotional blues notes. Pianist Sonny Clark, a Blue Note regular, adds a solo that comes straight from a smoky midnight jazz bar. Saxmen Gene Ammons and Billy Root add their flavors.

Five more songs follow, each different from the last. "We Wanna Cook" strikes a bebop tone—the only song on the album that does—with Ammons (or is it Root?) playing hard and fast in a way that reminds me of Paul Gonsalves' long, legendary solo with Duke Ellington at Newport just two years earlier—funky and almost rocking.

"That's All" is a sweet, beautiful ballad. Green is wonderful—soft and gentle and dreamy. "Lullabye of the Doomed" is, as the title implies, a mournful dirge. Green's trombone weeps, and the saxophones are full of swirling smoke. It reminds me of Miles Davis on "My Funny Valentine," or Ellington's "Mood Indigo." The closer, "Black Pearl," is a happy, lively tune that allows each soloist to shine.

The only downer, and it's a small one, is "B.G. Mambo." The theme is sort of cheesy, though it does give way to seven minutes of very pleasant solos, before returning to the goofy theme.

All in all, Soul Stirrin' is an unexpected pleasure from a jazz man who is largely forgotten. Now that I've discovered Bennie Green, I want to hear more.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Not rare, but not common either

Cost: Just $5.34 on MP3, but $17 new and $11 or $12 used
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