Lou Donaldson: The Best of Lou Donaldson, Volume 1 – 1957-1967

Marc Davis By

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For anyone new to Lou Donaldson, it’s a good place to start, and has some of his best numbers.
I'm not a huge fan of Best Of albums. Artists make albums of music—some with themes, some without—and you go with it. One album generally equals one mood, so why mix them up?

But then...

Lou Donaldson is an alto saxophonist who spent virtually his entire career at one label: Blue Note. Bigger names have recorded on Blue Note—Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins—but none so extensively, from the 1950s to '70s.

Trouble is, there are several flavors of Lou Donaldson. That's a good thing. Who wants to hear the same artist play the same songs over and over? But it does make it difficult to choose the Lou you like. And if you're coming at Donaldson cold, as I did many years ago, you wonder: Where to start?

Start here. This best-of album covers Donaldson's best decade, before he became synonymous with soul-funk-R&B jazz albums that were, too often, just mediocre.

There are three moods of mid-50s-to-mid-60s Lou Donaldson, and this CD covers each briefly. It starts with a Donaldson original, "Grits and Gravy," a slow, draggy blues. The third cut, another Donaldson original, "Blues Walk," covers the same territory, with perhaps a more sensual feel. The mood is laid-back and warm.

Then there's straight-ahead bebop/hard bop Lou Donaldson, obviously influenced by Charlie Parker. The second cut on this CD, "Groovin' High," is a Parker number that Donaldson handles adeptly. He won't make you forget Bird, but he's in the same ballpark. Very good, if not memorable. "Light Foot," another Donaldson original, treads the same ground.

Then there's my favorite, the organ-combo Donaldson. It's an acquired taste, but there's something about a Hammond B3 organ with a tasteful blues guitar and soulful sax that touches my buttons. A bit groovy and dated, true, but so much fun. "Here 'Tis," from the album of the same name, starts with a languid bluesy groove. "Sow Belly Blues" is in a more funky toe-tapping cut. And "Alligator Boogaloo" is the start of Donaldson's transition to full-time funky man, a path he continued down for the rest of his career.

Like all Best Of albums, this is an introduction, and a short one at only nine tracks. For anyone new to Lou Donaldson, it's a good place to start, and has some of his best numbers. Then, pick the Lou you like and find a real album, the way Donaldson wanted you to hear it.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Many copies on Amazon, new and used

Cost: Around $4 to $7, used

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