Two sides, one groove. There’s a torrid live set, a bare-bones trio that keeps the crowd going. It’s a basic sound, loose (in the good sense) and very satisfying. Then they go to the studio, with percussion and a second guitar (Boogaloo Joe Jones, in his first session for Prestige.) This is more polished, with varied timbres and a bit of pop. You get wicked movers, and the gentle cool found in his hit “Misty”. Tension ebbs and flows with the touch of a master; the crowd hangs on every note. That’s no surprise; so do I.
The first half comes from Count Basie’s, where organ groups held court. That crowd means business, and so does Holmes: we get the good blues tight off the top. His solo starts with a note so bent you think the disc is warped – yes sir, we have a winner. A fan say “Yeah!” and starts clapping; Groove starts rolling it as Gene Edwards brings a bad strum. The organ stutters, shouts some sweet patterns (they get the crowd shouting) and lastly it screams – oh yeah. It’s called “Living Soul”, and it is. No question.
The next blues comes from Gerald Wilson, a thing in 6/8 with that “Summertime” feel. Holmes whispers the theme with a reedy trill on top. Edwards is juicy: big bouncing notes, then chords, then slinky walks. Then it’s Groove: slow and soft, by turns the hands wander, and the heat starts to rise. “Gemini” is twin surprises: the star is Edwards (at times he’s like Wes, with a dirtier tone) and Groove sounds like an oboe! Where Edwards was busy and bold, Holmes is staid; little notes that get the job done. Then the sound gets fuller, and he races downward as Edwards stokes the fire. An intensity you can taste; the crowd approves.
The show ends with “Over the Rainbow”, and it’s a slooow kiss: someone says “Take your time, baby!” and he does. The bass pedals creep warmly, the chords soft and fuzzy, and the stutters sound tender. Edwards doesn't get a lot of room; when he does he's a ray of sunshine. The crowd is their most vocal, and when it ends on a grand flourish, they have every reason to be.
The Spicy album opens with a bid for the radio: the chart for “If I Had a Hammer” sounds like Jimmy McGriff’s “I Got a Woman”. Same tambourine, same chugging guitar (now there are two of them), same light screaming. A great performance; my kind of folk music! “Never on Sunday” has a dated charm; I hear this and think of movies like Diabolik. Better is “Carnaval”: a nice easy groove, the conga adds a lot of depth, and Holmes takes it with authority. No fire, no flash, but a whole lot of soul.
“Boo-D-Doo” is a great dollop of funk, Boogaloo getting a great fuzz bass hum as Groove swings it easy. This one rivals “Living Soul” in mood, and it has a better theme. And now for something completely the same: “Work Song” starts sneaky and grabs your ears. Groove is lower than normal, with the understated assurance that marked “Carnaval”. Edwards takes chords with that great dirty tone – blues incarnate. (Boogaloo Joe is more like Wes, and less interesting.)
The easy Groove returns on “When Lights are Low”; back are the stutters gone for most of this album. His solo takes a reedy turn, drifting gentle above the rhythm. And “Old Folks” slows to a heartbeat: the same mood as “Rainbow”, though not as sweet. The guitars are sweet, ringing like bells; Holmes skates slowly, a few bluesy trills but mostly he’s quiet. A bit long, but sweet; a little sugar to go with all the spice.