With all the accolades and attention paid to acts like Soulive and Medeski, Martin and Wood, the true progenitors of their music often get lost in the shuffle. Milestone has been righting such wrongs for years by signing evergreen Soul Jazz talent to its ranks. This new entry by Red Holloway serves as the latest notice that the venerable voices of the idiom are still alive and kicking.
Holloway, who first gained acclaim as a member of Jack McDuff’s outfit in the early 1960s and waxed a string of popular Prestige sides on his own, has a horn sound custom-suited to the groove. Basie alum Frank Wess adds a compatible hard swing element to the band sound palpable from the opening legato riffing of “Still Groovin’.” Plectrist Melvin Sparks and Dr. Lonnie Smith, also known under his whirling dervish moniker The Turbanator, bring decades of soul and funk experience to the session alongside the two lead horns. Paul Humphrey mans the drum kit and stokes a driving beat that never oversteps his partner’s fluid movements. These chaps might be older, grayer and in Holloway’s case, balder, but they still no how to conjure up and contain a propulsive groove.
Holloway projects no illusions as to the purpose of the music or the session. This is first and foremost an opportunity for the principals to have a good time and celebrate a shared lineage that is now over four decades strong. He keeps running time down to a modest fifty-three minutes over the span of eight cuts. There’s enough space for everyone to stretch, but not too much room to meander or falter. The succinct nature of the set results in substantial replay dividends, just as the uncluttered arrangements set feet to tapping and the fingers to popping. Holloway’s alto even shows up on the ballad “Indian Summer” synching gracefully with the fulsome flutter of Wess’ tenor. The two saxophonists dance a slow waltz atop the molasses throb of Smith’s thick tonal sustains.
Just about the only stumble is Holloway’s decision for a vocal turn on the Helen Humes vehicle “Million Dollar Secret.” His pipes have neither the bite of a leathery voiced bluesman nor the convincing swagger of cocktail crooner and come off as desultory despite the fine backing by the band. The slow sizzling closer, “Good to Go,” regains lost ground with some greasy interplay between Sparks and Smith. The tenors slip and slide across the lubricious chordal terrain and Holloway wisely prolongs the tune past the nine-minute mark. As the icing on the sonic cupcake, the entire session was recorded in the warm acoustics of Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, the site of countless earlier groove conclaves.
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