The history of jazz is filled with great pairs: Duke Ellington
and Billy Strayhorn
and Charlie Parker
and Paul Desmond
and Joe Zawinul
Add one more pair to the list: Jimmy Smith
and Stanley Turrentine
Smith was the ground-breaking organist, steeped in the blues, who introduced the Hammond B-3 as a legitimate hard bop alternative to the piano. Turrentine was the legendary tenor saxman, steeped in the blues, who became synonymous with 1960s soul-jazz.
It was inevitable that Smith and Turrentine would find each other.
Together, they created a series of great albums. The one you know best is Back at the Chicken Shack
, the 1960 classic that is one of the genuine high points of the soul-jazz movement. The one you don't know, or know less well, is Midnight Special
another 1960 album from the very same session, featuring the very same lineup: Smith, Turrentine, guitarist Kenny Burrell
and drummer Donald Bailey
The pleasure starts immediately with the opening number, "Midnight Special," a slow, blues-soaked affair. Turrentine sets the mood from the start, with a fat, round tone, a down and dirty solo that announces that this may be Smith's album, but it's Turrentine's star vehicle. Smith takes over with a slow and sensuous turn, followed by Burrell's tasteful, spare guitar work. It is 10 minutes of pure blues heaven.
And then the pace quickens. The second number, written by Turrentine, is called "A Subtle One," but that's misleading. It's faster, bouncier and more boppisha real toe-tapper. Smith bubbles along, sounding more upbeat. Turrentine takes an almost rock-ish solo. Burrell, the perfect complement to both Smith and Turrentine, follows.
And now the pace gets even faster. "Jumpin' the Blues" is almost rock 'n' roll, which is hardly a surprise. That same year on the Billboard charts, Elvis Presley
and Chuck Berry
and Chubby Checker were making music history of their own. This is hard bop pure and simple, swift blues (what is rock, after all?), with Smith bouncing crazily on the B-3's bass pedals.
Finally, as if exhausted by the steady rush of tempos on the previous numbers, Turrentine takes a slow, sad crawl on the Charlie Parker
and Jay McShann
"Why Was I Born." It is six minutes of stark blues, reflecting the title. And then, to close the album, the band swings on Count Basie
's retro classic "One O'Clock Jump," as if to say, hey, it's all for fun.
And then it's over, 36 minutes after it begins. Midnight Special
is indeed special. It ranks among the best that Jimmy Smith and Stanley Turrentine ever produced, together or separately. Get it.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Availability: Easy to find
Cost: Just $3.50 used