To most readers Brother Jack is probably the more recognizable name on this double billing disc. Jennings was something of an obscurity even when these sessions were originally released, but not because of a lack of talent. His easy, blues-based style and clean touch on the strings contrast his anonymity and describe a musician who really wasn’t ever afforded his due. Fortunately the recordings gathered here allow a generous glimpse into the state of his art when he was at the height of his game. Having McDuff on the team definitely doesn’t hurt his closing score either.
The first half of the disc features a quartet with Marshall and Johnson rounding out the sound on bass and drums respectively. Marshall’s inclusion is a welcome surprise given the tendency of organ combos to eschew the presence of string bass and he lends his fingers the task of sculpting a flexible bottom end for the group while at the same time emancipating McDuff from the bass pedals. The four players dance nimbly across a loose program of originals and covers and the emphasis is always on forward motion. McDuff’s organ style was among the most dynamic on the instrument and he incorporated a thorough understanding of acoustics with a prodigious facility for effects. On these dates he manages to show off his consummate technique while still allowing Jennings the space to do the same. In the disc’s liners the guitarist admits an affection for the saxophone and his clipped phrasing on his strings bears this preference out at times mimicking staccato horn figures. Highlights of the session include the luminescent “Volare” and the noirish blues of the title track.
Session number two adds Jenning’s brother Al who sits in with the quartet on vibes, and on “Billin’ and Bluin’,” guitar. McDuff also switches instruments on this piece providing an uncommon chance to hear him behind the piano. His light touch at the acoustic keys blends smoothly with the Jennings brothers’ rustic chords and Johnson’s burlesque beat and stands in bold contrast to the burly bravado of his introduction to “Azure-Te.” Elongated and breezy, “Cole Slaw” offers little of the sour aftertaste referenced by its title and the five men use the tune’s plush contours to really stretch out. The R&B staple “Hey Miss Jones” scores the final point at the buzzer with a brisk pace and economical delivery. Jennings’ maybe be a forgotten footnote today, but after listening to this disc it’s easy to imagine that he had his moment in the limelight shortly after these sessions hit the record shops.
Enough Said/ Tough Gain/ Volare (aka Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu)/ Dark Eyes/ It Could Happen To You/ Blue Jams/ Dig Uncle Will/ Glide On/ Alexandria, Virginia/ Billin
Bill Jennings- guitar; Jack McDuff- organ, piano; Al Jennings- guitar, vibes; Wendell Marshall- bass; Alvin Johnson- drums.
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