In 1967 many aspiring musicians picked up the guitar as their instrument of choice, but most were interested in becoming the next Bob Dylan rather than the next Wes Montgomery. It’s understandable, then, that Phil Upchurch’s debut as a leader got lost in the shuffle. At this point he had worked as a sideman with some of the best artists in the rhythm and blues field, like Otis Rush and B.B. King, and would later follow the fusion movement with George Benson’s outfit in the seventies. However, Feeling Blue demonstrates that he was more than capable of handling the spotlight.
Half of the selections feature a high octane horn section where Upchurch no doubt felt right at home, and the R&B leanings of “Feeling Blue” and “Muscle Soul” give the guitarist plenty of opportunities to exercise his chops, cleanly executed and tasteful at any speed. But when the group approaches jazz standards and pop tunes they fall prey to the over-orchestration that marred Wes Montgomery’s later releases. “Tangerine,” for instance, is too muscular, and “Up, Up, and Away” sounds horribly dated today.
If the entire session featured this approach, then the album as a whole would be clearly sub par. However, the real treats are the quintet tracks, in which Upchurch is the sole lead instrument and is backed by a crack rhythm section. The handful of jazz standards and originals showcase his skill with single note and chord-based solos. The guitarist makes serviceable material out of “Corcovado” and “I Want A Little Girl” but turns in two truly great performances with a heavily swinging “Israel” and a bluesy “Sabaceous Lament” that display a formidable soloist with a bit of edge and plenty of tasty licks. Released for the first time on CD, Feeling Blue is a great jazz guitar record that, while flawed, displays a musician of considerable talent.
Track Listing: 1. Felling Blue 2. Stop and Listen 3. Corcovado 4. Really Sincere 5. Tangerine 6. Up, Up, and Away 7. Israel 8. Sabaceous Lament 9. Muscle Soul 10. I Want A Little Girl.
Personnel: On 3, 4, 7, 8, 10: Phil Upchurch - guitar; Wynton Kelly - piano; Richard Davis - bass; Jimmy Cobb - drums; Montego Joe - congas. Other selections: Phil Upchurch - guitar; Wallace Davenport - trumpet; Ed Pazant, John Gilmore, Pat Patricl - reeds; Al Williams - piano, celeste; Chuck Rainey - electric bass; Bernard Purdie - drums; Warren Smith - congas, vibraharp.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.