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Jimmy McGriff: Straight Up

Douglas Payne By

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Despite all-star accompanists and sterling production, organist Jimmy McGriff's Milestone output (since 1983) has more of a lounge-combo sound than the wicked blues he cut for Sue in 1962-65 or the heady grooves of his Groove Merchant and LRC records of the 1970s. Still, Straight Up, the organ grinder's eleventh Milestone recording, occasionally moves out of the lounge and offers its share of interesting moments.

Here, McGriff stacks the front line with the double-barreled reeds of regular associate David "Fathead" Newman and (in an inspired move), Frank Wess. Rodney Jones (a ringer for the jazzier George Benson) and Wayne Boyd are on guitar and Bernard Purdie mans the drums.

The highlight of the set is Newman's title cut, a slow, dark, funky blues featuring both hornmen wailing on flute with signature commentary by the leader. The obligatory funk track — the Isley Brothers classic, "It's Your Thing" — starts off right. But at nine minutes, the vamp goes on a little longer than necessary. McGriff is certainly in his gospel-blues element here, though, and offers wonderful, heated commentary on his Hammond X-B3, a sort of synthesized organ that provides richer sound potential and, in McGriff's hands, emits a likeable, identifiable sound.

The group, steered, more than led by McGriff, goes back to the lounge for the Basie-like blues of McGriff's "Doin My Thing," Jones's "Blues For The Baby Grand," Newman's "Brother Griff" and the less-than-thrilling arrangements of standards "It Had To Be You" and "Oleo." But despite the sometimes corny atmosphere, each tune still contains at least one interesting solo.

Straight Up isn't perfect. But the variety on display here is nice and the ageless organ master proves he can still grind with a style that's worth hearing.

Songs:Doin' My Thing; It Had To Be You; Straight Up; Blues For The Baby Grand; It's Your Thing; Dream; Brother Griff; Oleo.

Players:Jimmy McGriff: Hammond X-B3 organ; David "fathead" Newman, Frank Wess: tenor sax, flute; Rodney Jones, Wayne Boyd: guitar; Bernard Purdie: drums.

Title: Straight Up | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: HighNote


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