Sonny Stitt: Low Flame

Derek Taylor By

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Despite its periodic popularity and its tenable ties to today’s acid jazz scene 60s soul jazz has a checkered history when it comes to critical acceptance. Denigrated as simplistic and repetitive the music was often judged on unequal footing with more ‘scholarly’ schools of jazz such as be-bop and cool. The Hammond B-3 players who were among its primary purveyors were rarely, if ever, about stolid erudition. Part of the music’s infectious charm (which goes part and parcel with many critics’ derision of it) is its dogged preference for visceral emotion and impact over intellectual complexity and pretension.

Over the past several years the Prestige label has seized upon the opportunity afforded by the music’s recent resurgence to plumb the deep recesses of its vaults and uncover an expanding catalog of reissues, dubbed under the dubious moniker “Legends of Acid Jazz.” Trading up the psychedelic acid-washed look of earlier releases for a neon pastiche of pastels the new string of titles in the series still remains suspect in the packaging department. Fortunately the subtlety absent in their covers is more than compensated for in the mouthwatering chocolate grooves contained under their garish wrappers. This time out the focus is on several lesser-known confectioners in the Prestige soul jazz sweet shop alongside the handful of more readily recognizable names. Also, to be fair, the folks at Fantasy wisely chose to include facsimiles of the original album covers in the liners along with original program notes.

Sonny Stitt was among the rare breed of jazz musician able to shape his style to the Zeitgeist of the moment while still retaining his signature sound. Starting out his career under the heady auspices of swing Stitt quickly shifted gears during the rise of be-bop becoming an unrepentant Charlie Parker disciple. His horn was also on hand during the rise of the organ combos that solidified soul jazz and his muscular tone fit easily into their propulsive groove-oriented environs. This two-fer drops in on Stitt in a pair of such settings and finds him teaming up with Don Patterson, an organist whose affinity for be-bop ran as deep as his own. The first session also features the fretwork of Weeden, a relatively obscure, but competent guitarist. Drummer James delivers solid, if somewhat restrained rhythms on both sessions.

An easy groove is the emphasis on the majority of numbers beginning with the opening title track where Stitt blows long, sonorous tenor atop Patterson’s slippery lines. Stitt switches to alto on the tender ballad “Cynthia Sue” conversing in a gorgeous dialogue with Weeden’s gossamer strings before the guitarist builds a shimmering solo of his own. Patterson kicks up some glowing gospel sustain with his pedals that signal the tune’s close. Patterson’s “Donald Duck” grasps at a similarly relaxed groove with Stitt singing sweet runs above the organist’s loose comping. A racier pace is set on “Silly Billy” thanks to James’ taut cymbals and Patterson’s pumping fills. Though brief in duration the quartet’s reading of “Baby, Do You Ever Think of Me” hits a high point in terms of graceful lyricism.

Weeden is absent on the second session and the resulting trio opens up even more space for the interactions between Patterson and Stitt. Their soulful solos and exchanges on “My New Baby” provide the profitable preface for the kinds of grooves that are in store over the next five tracks. Stitt’s tone is even more intoxicating than on the first session and his only possible misstep crops up during his tongue-in-cheek turn as a blues vocalist on “Mama Don’t Allow.” As a whole this is an excellent set and the low flame referenced by the players in the disc’s title keeps things simmering at a slow burn throughout.

Track Listing: Low Flame/ Put Your Little Foot Right Out/ Cynthia Sue/ Donald Duck/ Close Your Eyes/ Silly Billy/ Baby, Do You Ever Think of Me/ Fine and Dandy/ My New Baby/ Misty/ Soul Food/ Shangri-La/ Mama Don

Personnel: Sonny Stitt- tenor & alto saxophones, vocals; Paul Weeden- guitar; Don Patterson- organ; Billy James- drums.

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

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