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A number of shopworn lines might be used to characterizeKeep That Groove Going!, a session co-led by Plas Johnson and Red Holloway. Bromides such as “A battle between two veteran tenor saxophonists,” and “A heady combination of blues and bebop” contain more than a grain of truth, yet ultimately obscure the larger picture. Beneath the emotionally charged surface of both Johnson and Holloway’s playing lies a wellspring of intelligence and good taste. Guided by an exceptionally tight rhythm section consisting of Hammond B-3 organist Gene Ludwig, guitarist Melvin Sparks, and drummer Kenny Washington, the septuagenarians tackle a diverse program that refutes the notion that there are artistic limitations in sustaining a groove.
It only takes a few bars of Johnson and Holloway’s jubilant unison statement on Coleman Hawkins’ “Stuffy” to realize something special is happening. Holloway starts the solos by digging right into the medium tempo and builds an edifice consisting of short phrases that wallow in his rich tone, leaving plenty of space for the rhythm section to fill. All the while Washington nips at his heels with prickly accents on the snare drum. Inspired by Ludwig’s comping, Johnson fashions a droll statement out of long bent notes and brief passages that flash on and off like an irregular neon sign. Using the metallic click of Washington’s hi-hat as a rhythmic guidepost, Ludwig’s all-too-brief turn swings intensely without ever breaking into a sweat.
Some of Holloway and Johnson’s most memorable playing occurs during their respective ballad features. Holloway doesn’t so much play the melody of “Serenade in Blue” as he caresses it, resembling something out of a heavenly dream. With a pointed note here and jagged phrase there, his solo moves in a virile swagger; eventually culminating in a succession of blues based declarations. Breaking out from his usual pensive manner, Ludwig follows, sounding uncharacteristically frisky by playing brisk lines that threaten to lose control before coming back into the fold. His ominous chords provide a fitting introduction to Johnson’s stunning performance of “Cry Me a River.” The first time around, the tenor saxophonist poignantly plays the initial part of the melody, hitting the first note hard and bending it before continuing as if exhausted from the effort. Johnson’s repeat of the same section is startling in its use of the bebop lexicon, sounding like a brief outpouring of anguish.
Track Listing: Keep That Groove Going!; Stuffy; Serenade in Blue; Go Red Go; Bretheren!; Pass the Gravy; Jammin' for Mr. Lee; Cry Me a River; Dream a Little Dream of Me.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.