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Jack McDuff: Brother Jack

AAJ Staff By

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One thing leads to another: Willis Jackson came to Prestige to revive his career, and in the process started another. The label was eager to join the organ arena, but their Shirley Scott/Lockjaw albums met little commercial success. Willis brought his band to the studio; Prestige liked what they heard. Two sidemen got contracts: Bill Jennings’ Enough Said is now out of print, but McDuff’s Brother Jack proved to be the start of a series, showing his great chops and phenomenal talent scouting (we get some of that later.) The drive is hard, the funk is deep, the satisfaction is total.

The first date is the Jackson band minus Gator; Jennings gets as much space as Jack does. McDuff starts it off with a breathy reed sound, the guitar with answering chimes. His solo goes light, tiny notes with a feather touch. Jennings is great with the comp, slinking sly on the “Lupe Lu” changes. His own turn is bright, a gentler side than we normally see. Jack then returns, and sweetly it fades; preach on, Brother.

“Mr. Wonderful” is Bill, taking it simply with a little sass. Again Jack has the airy sound, bouncing high like a theremin. “Drowsy” is late-night smooch music: a velvety Jennings bends “Sleepwalk” notes with quiet grace. Bill does nothing unusual, but he does it very well; no wonder Jack said “Every time I play a note I want it to be with Bill Jennings.” Well said, but as we’ll see, McDuff could sure pick guitarists!

“Organ Grinder” gets down ‘n’ dirty; Jack stirs up a big mess of blues. Jennings is BAD – he’s strong as a bass. “Mack ‘n’ Duff” starts with “Bei Mir Bist...” and becomes the happy blues. He’s stronger here: the sound of vibes, and he rings them good. He stutters a bit, rolls the right hand, and Jennings does that percussion vamp he hit on Gator’s “Blue Strollin’”. It starts in high gear, and goes up from there; my kind of tune. “You’re Driving Me Crazy” puts the reedy sound to best advantage: the warbles are sweet, ditto the barely audible brushes. As it goes, the sound gets deeper, and goes between romantic and cool. And the sendoff, “Light Blues”, is a showcase, with Jennings’ silky despair and Jack’s hollow musing (with support from the left hand.) Light it is, but there’s a depth to keep you listening. So too the album: unassuming but with simple charm, you knew others would follow...

A year has passed, and McDuff’s own group takes to the studio. (This was planned for four horns, but the budget interfered.) Jennings is gone (he stayed with Gator) but what a replacement: an earlier album had Jimmy Forrest, and Jack hired his guitarist, Grant Green. (And two years later he’d discover George Benson.) Green proves himself in a moment: his fragile snap makes “Godiva Brown” irresistible. He’s not as fast as he’d later be, but everything else is there. Harold Vick brings a healthy growl and old-time street power, a must for this style. And the Brother is strong: forceful comps and trembling solos. He’s sweeter on “Goodnight”, an adorably soft tone as Vick gets that R&B honk. This sucker moves, and don’t worry – they’re enjoying it too much to stop!

“Sanctified Waltz” was a club staple, and you know why: a dose of soul with a kick like a mule. Duff gets tough, aided by vicious toms (the underrated Joe Dukes.) Vick has a great “Amen” at the end. “McDuff speaking” is a simple jam blues with powerful riffs (at one point, the “Blue ‘n’ Boogie” riff.) Jack means business, a furious surge like his later tune “Screamin’”. Then Grant invades: springy notes, and they leap into action. Speak, no; shout, Yes! And “I’ll Be Seeing You’ gets gorgeous, a glowing tone with green flourishes. There’s a little grit here, and a whole lot of sunshine. Grant, relaxed, has his best solo, and Vick goes bold for the perfect finish. It’s a wonderful snapshot: hear a giant grow before your very ears. And the pleasures are big, too!


Title: Brother Jack | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Prestige Records


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