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Willis Jackson with Jack McDuff: Together Again!

David Rickert By

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Organ jazz from the late fifties and early sixties had a tendency to be predictable, yet it still provided a template for churning out catchy tunes, many of which became hit singles. Once again Fantasy has mined its seemingly inexhaustible supply of the stuff for this record, which once again pairs a couple of previous releases together on one CD. Like most of the other discs in this format (many by McDuff himself), there’s some filler, but enough greasy soul on this 1960 reissue to keep one satisfied.

Jack McDuff and Willis Jackson were two musicians who mined the soul jazz craze for all it’s worth, and despite a few curveballs, they knew not to tinker with a formula that works. These two had played together before and had a deep understanding of each other’s styles. McDuff is one of the best organists to emerge after Jimmy Smith and is more than capable of sustaining a groove by pumping out chords (although he prefers to leave the bottom end to a bassist instead of using the pedals). Jackson, although not a great tenor player, is capable of stringing together a series of licks into an acceptable solo.

However, the real treat here is Bill Jennings, a guitarist whose country-inflected licks bring to mind a mix of Charlie Christian and Chet Atkins. Jennings is the real reason to check out the record, and his nimble solos on “Angel Eyes” and “Gil’s Pills” easily make up for the shortcomings of a group who sometimes seem to be on autopilot, constructing tunes on what has proved workable in the past.

Unfortunately, the last six tracks feature Jackson almost exclusively, and Jennings and McDuff seem to be watching the clock, content to vamp and do little else. Other than the hit single “This’ll Get To Ya,” which is a suitably shallow groove for airplay, the rest of the tunes fail to generate any real heat. Jackson shows a strong Ben Webster influence, but he lacks the inventiveness necessary to sustain the spotlight on even the shortest of tunes. “Backtrack” and “Snake Crawl” are fine enough but seem like deliberate efforts to climb the charts. Despite its shortcomings, though, Together Again! is a satisfactory release for those who like their organ jazz cut and dry.


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