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Straight Up: Jimmy McGriff

Ed Kopp By

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Jimmy McGriff considers himself a blues organist, not a jazzbo. Regardless of the label, McGriff is one of the most soulful B3 organ players alive, a verity he proves yet again on this fine release.

Straight Up features two of my favorite tenor saxmen, the great David "Fathead" Newman and the elegant Frank Wess. Factor in guitarist Rodney Jones, the underrated guitarist Wayne Boyd, and veteran skinman Bernard Purdie, and you have yourself a soul-jazz summit.

"Smooth" is a word that's been co-opted by contemporary jazz radio, but it's an adjective that aptly describes this CD. All eight tracks swing with loose assurance. Seven tracks exceed seven minutes in length, but they're so much fun you'll wish they'd last even longer.

The CD opens with "Doin' My Thing," a classic soul-jazz workout that finds Newman and Wess singing on saxophones while McGriff, Jones and Purdie motor the groove. "It Had To Be You" is a great melodic vehicle for the two saxman. Newman and Wess then wield flutes for the gently grooving title track. Jones' "Blues For The Baby Grand" is a catchy toe-tapper followed by the Isley Brother's "It's Your Thing," a tune that grooves so hard it hurts. Johnny Mercer's "Dream" features Wess on flute and Purdie with some intricate drumming. McGriff takes us to church on my favorite cut, "Brother Griff." The 62-year-old Philadelphian wrings every bit of soul out of his Hammond-Suzuki X-B3 as he delivers eight full minutes of blissful gospel-drenched blues. The CD's closer is Sonny Rollins' Oleo, a swinger on which everybody gets loose.

Call it blues, acid-jazz, groove music or soul, "Straight Up" hits you where you live.

Title: Jimmy McGriff | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

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