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Phil Upchurch: Tell The Truth!

AAJ Staff By

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If Phil Upchurch would unroll a list of albums on which he has played, ever since his start in the very early 1960's, it would be as long as his arm—and it would still dangle from his hand for at least the same length again. Always busy as a back-up guitarist, Upchurch's versatility and his ability to slip into any format obscure his true musical personality.

Is he a blues guitarist, as he was with Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy? Is he a pop guitarist, as he was with Chaka Khan and Donny Hathaway. Is he a big band guitarist, as he was with Woody Herman? Is he an organ circuit guitarist, as he was with Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff? Is he an R&B guitarist, as he was with Dee Clark and The Spaniels? Is he a contemporary guitarist, as he was with Najee and Kirk Whalum? Is he a jazz guitarist, as he was with Stanley Turrentine, Wynton Kelly and Stan Getz? Is he a soul guitarist, as he was with Aretha Franklin or The Staple Singers? Is he a singer's guitarist, as he was with Natalie Cole, Carmen McRae and Shirley Horn?

Well, he's all of that, and more.

Phil Upchurch is one of those talents who make categorization meaningless What is important is talent and a love of the music. All of that comes through without a doubt on Tell The Truth!

In his sixty years, Upchurch has crossed over into more genres and uprooted himself to live in more jazz scenes than one can comprehend in a single description. Today he's living in Los Angeles, where he recruited the musicians of his working band that plays on Tell The Truth!

Upchurch has noted that this CD is one of the few on which he got to choose the style and the tunes. Perhaps intentionally, or perhaps not, Upchurch has chosen to exhibit not only his assertive and yet sensitive mastery of the instrument, but also to demonstrate his flexibility. Referring to his work with Nat Adderley, Upchurch opens the CD with "Jive Samba," and we find that he digs into the harmonic underpinnings of the tune, as well as the dramatic flair of its first ending. And yet, he reveals the often-overlooked or underestimated talent of Steely Dan (at least by jazz listeners) when he eases into "Jack Of Speed." Pianist David Arnay's "Home Again" remains in the same vein of casualness, allowing for Upchurch's relaxed flow over gradually evolving changes.

But then for contrast, Upchurch performs "Take Five" not as a repetition of the Brubeck approach, but as a Latinesque version that views the tune from a guitarist's perspective of melodic fluidity alternating with atmospheric soundscape. On "St. Louis Blues," Upchurch goes it alone to add a stroll to the tune as he becomes bassist and guitarist in one. Adopting yet another style, he plays "Misty" as a solo as well, but more in the lyrical, rubato and rich manner of a Kenny Burrell. "Girl Talk," backed by his trio of back-up musicians, seems an extension of the chorded and confident manner of "Misty," but with the addition of humor and bluesiness.

Tell The Truth! provides the occasion to reconsider Phil Upchurch's contributions to some of the major recordings of the past 40 years and to appreciate his embodiment of a mixture of styles that contains the essence of American music of his generation.

Track Listing: Jive Samba, Jack Of Speed, La Costa, Manhattan, Take Five, Home Again, Long Gone Bird, Tell The Truth, Back In Love Again, St. Louis Blues, Girl Talk, She's Alright, Misty

Personnel: Phil Upchurch, guitar; David Arnay, piano; Kevin Axt, bass; Vince Wilburn Jr., drums; Mike Smith, percussion

Title: Tell The Truth! | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Evidence Music


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