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Sonny Phillips: My Black Flower

Douglas Payne By

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Organist and pianist Sonny Phillips kept a rather low profile during his two decades in jazz. Born and raised in Alabama in 1936, Phillips headed to Chicago's DePaul University as a teen to pursue a career in education. At 20, he began studying privately with pianist Ahmad Jamal and started playing his own gigs in Chicago. Phillips joined Eddie Harris's band in 1963 and stayed with the tenor sax legend throughout most of the rest of the decade. By the late 1960s, Phillips was devoted to the Hammond B3 and headed to New York City, working with sax greats Rusty Bryant, Gene Ammons and Houston Person, who employed Phillips throughout most of the next decade.

Between 1969 and 1970, Phillips also recorded three discs of his own for Prestige Records, riffing over Prestige's usual stew of blues, ballads and boogaloos and offering unusual, but danceable originals like "Sure Nuff, Sure Nuff" and "Make It Plain." Phillips toured and recorded with Houston Person regularly over the next few years, penning two of Person's best songs: "Kittatian Carnaval" (from 1973's The Real Thing ) and "Preachin' and Teachin'" (from 1977, available on Person's 32 Jazz set Lost & Found ).

Sonny Phillips, who also began using his Muslim name, Jalal Rushdan, at this time, made only two more records under his own name, both for the Muse label: this 1976 session and 1977's I Concentrate On You, which could have easily been added in full to this CD. After a bout with cancer, Phillips fled to California and began teaching. He remains there today, proudly presenting piano recitals featuring his students.

My Black Flower is a nice reminder of what Phillips contributed to jazz. It's a pleasing blend of simple but varied medium-tempo soul riffs. The organist sets himself within a complimentary quintet (with second drummer Frankie Jones added for whatever reason to three tracks) featuring perfectly attuned and equally underrated guitarist Jimmy Ponder, flautist Galen Robinson, drummer Ben Dixon and percussionist Ralph Dorsey.

Phillips starts by revisiting Eddie Harris's soulful blues "Goin Home," (he also played on the 1966 original, included on 32 Jazz's Harris anthology, Greater Than The Sum Of His Parts ). "My Black Flower" switches gears completely and lets Phillips sit down at the grand piano for a solo feature that clearly displays Ahmad Jamal's influence. "Salaam 7" and "Jalal" are typical Phillips originals, offering familiar but forgettable riffs, but plenty of engaging solos from the organist and the guitarist (notable again on the wedding combo groove of "You Make Me Feel So Young"). The disc's strongest, and surely most played track will be "Me And Me Brudder," another one of Phillips's infectious "Kittatian Carnival"-like Jamaican grooves.

Phillips was never destined to shake the rafters, dethrone fellow organists Jimmy Smith or Larry Young or even eclipse the individual talents of other low-key players like John Patton, Leon Spencer or Clarence Palmer. He simply set out to share the benefit of music's joy and shared experience with listeners. That's what gives My Black Flower the interest it maintains today.

Songs:Goin Home; Salaam 7; My Black Flower; Me And Me Brudder; You Make Me Feel So Young; Jalal.

Players: Sonny Phillips: organ, piano; Jimmy Ponder: guitar; Galen Robinson: flute; Qaadir Almubeen Muhammad (Ben Dixon), Frankie Jones: drums; Ralph Dorsey: percussion.

| Record Label: 32 Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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