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Despite the drab classicism its title might imply this disc delivers a set of music that’s a distant departure from run-of-the-mill repertory .pap. Jack McDuff might’ve been given the moniker of Hardest “Working Man on the Touring Circuit” if a certain Detroit Soul Man hadn’t donned it first. He was certainly deserving given the grueling touring schedule he subjected himself to during the late Fifties. All the hard work and living finally started to pay dividends in the Sixties and McDuff’s star rightfully rose to the legendary status it occupies today. Performances like the ones captured in this collection are part of the reason why.
The program is an amalgam of mostly live recordings culled from dates at the Front Room and the Golden Circle, now defunct venues that were hotbeds for jazz in their respective heydays. Also appended to the set is a stray track from a Van Gelder recording session from several years later that features Pat Martino, guitarist George Benson’s replacement in the band. Cycling off a joyous blues riff on the opener the four players set about smoldering from the start, with Benson in particular in a solo suffused with a surprising countrified twang. There’s some odd phase shifting that sounds as if the engineer was setting his dials mid-stream, but the burning intensity of the band bleeds through famously just the same. Dukes keeps solid time throughout, adding the accentuating press roll or rim shot in the boisterous style that was his custom, while Holloway celebrates his role as second soloist behind the leader, rolling out easy, but emphatic lines that never stray to far from the blues-infused themes.
Several unexpected choices crop up in the set list including a weird reading of “The Girl from Ipanema” that elicits riotous applause from an appreciative Swedish audience. McDuff strolls through the familiar melody with his keys locked in full roller-rink mode as Benson strums lilting chords beside him and Dukes keeps the percolating samba beat. Jimmy Giuffre’s famously fast blower “Four Brothers” also seems something of an odd match, but the band digs in and recasts it as viable soul-jazz fodder without loosing any of its signature speed. Fans of McDuff who don’t already own the vinyl copies from which these tracks are sprung would do well to seek this set out.
Prestige on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com
Track Listing: Undecided (alternate)/ Love Walked In/ Midnight Sun/ Swedenin
Personnel: Jack McDuff- organ; Red Holloway- tenor saxophone; George Benson- guitar; Pat Martino- guitar*; Joe Dukes- drums. Recorded: June 5, 1963, Newark, NJ, July 1964, Stockholm and late 1965 or early 1966, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.