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Melvin Sparks: I'm A 'Gittar' Player

Douglas Payne By

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Guitarist Melvin Sparks will sound familiar to those who like the fatback soul-jazz of the late 60s and early 70s. That music has new life today as "acid jazz" and Sparks was a significant catalyst in its sound. He's ignited some of the better funk of Lou Donaldson ( Pretty Things and Cosmos ), Sonny Stitt ( Turn It On ), Charles Earland ( Black Talk ), Lonnie Smith ( Think ), Hank Crawford (the recent Tight ) and Rusty Bryant (Sparks' best-ever solo is in the title track to Bryant's 1970 album Soul Liberation ). He also released three solid solo disks on Prestige in 1970 and 1971 ( Sparks, Sparkplug and Akilah ), two excellent dates on Eastbound ( Texas Twister in 1973 and '75 in 1975) and Sparkling on Muse in 1981.

I'm A 'Gittar' Player is a welcome return to center stage for Melvin Sparks. It presents him the way he's meant to be heard, in mostly blues, funk or boogaloo modes. Sparks remains a hell of an interesting player; engaging with bright, fluid lines, well-placed twangs and catchy ostinatos. He's rawer and more deliberate than George Benson, but, like his nearest rival, Jimmy Ponder, really comes out of Grant Green's 'soul bag' — and it's best to consider Sparks in this context.

Problem with I'm A 'Gittar' Player is, despite Ron Levy's terrific production and first-rate playing by the leader, nothing really stands out. Sparks ain't doing anything here he hasn't done just as well elsewhere. He hits highs on the bluesy "Balcony," the Latin-twang of "Jiggy," (featuring Pucho) the soulful "Boogie Street" and "Sparkling" — but he's done this kinda thing before. If you like Sparks' playing - and it's really hard to dislike — you'll appreciate the common ground. One minus, though: unnecessary vocals on the Texas grind of "All Day, All Night" and the crap-rap on an otherwise good blues version of K.C. & The Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight."

I'm A 'Gittar' Player won't change the world. But it's good to hear a good player doing what he does best.

Songs:Mr Texan; Balcony; Jiggy—4; Boogie Street; I'm A 'Gittar' Player-1,2,3; Sparkling-2; Taste The Flavor; All Day All Night-1,2,3,8,9; Get Down Tonite-1,8,10.

Players:Melvin Sparks (guitar,vocals-1); Ed Pazant (alto sax); Ron Levy (organ); Fred McFarlane (Fender Rhodes, piano, clavinet); Danny Mixon (piano); Stanley Banks (electric bass—2); Idris Muhammad (drums-3); Steve Kroon (percussion); Pucho (timbales-4); Idrissa Hassan—8, Ayisha Hassan—8, Kevin Bowler—9 (vocals); Back-to-Back (rap vocals—10).

| Record Label: Cannonball Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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