Over the past several years Fantasy has made great strides in returning portions of the classic Shirley Scott catalog to print. Their assiduous attention illustrates both the quality of Scott’s reservoir of recordings and its depth. This latest two-fer package collects a pair of albums that originate from the same single-day 1958 Rudy Van Gelder session. Conveniently enough Great Scott! and Shirley’s Sounds represent the organist’s debut and sophomore efforts for the Prestige label respectively, and easy places to get in on the ground floor of her robust oeuvre.
Like other organists of her generation, Scott spent her early years scuffling in Jimmy Smith’s sizeable shadow. A partnership with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis helped her star auger a sharper trajectory, and she parlayed the resulting higher profile into a lengthy solo career for the label, later switching to Verve and finding more success. The laughably dated tone of the liner notes point to another obstacle to Scott’s artistic ascendancy. Choice chauvinistic nuggets like “Shirley Scott is a girl. At the organ she does a man-sized job” are words annotator Ira Gitler would probably like to eat today. Joe Goldberg’s musings, also included, are bit more even-handed but still carry the odor of the prevailing prejudices of the day. Fantasy’s decision to reprint them right along with the music, while edifying, is also a bit surprising.
On all tracks Scott is abetted by her regular rhythm section of Duvivier and Edgehill (in common with the contemporaneous Davis group). Bassist George Tucker sits in for Duvivier on a single track, the sublimely rendered ballad “Bye Bye Blackbird.” The sixteen tunes are almost all then-popular standards with not much in the way of songbook surprises. Where Scott inserts the unexpected is in her arrangements, which make full use of her colleagues’ capabilities and in deceptively mellow and inventive ways. The trio’s take on “Summertime” is absolutely brilliant and one that traces a multiplicity of moods, from haunting to seductive in its four succinct minutes.
Occasional layers of syrup do arise on some of the slower ballads and Scott sometimes favors the reedy roller-rink settings of her instrument a bit too heavily, as on the plush reading of “Goodbye” and lush lullaby preamble to “Trees.” But even under the most ostentatious circumstances her lithesome touch and unflappable sense of swing win out. Duvivier is a model of elastic walking support, astutely expanding on the role usually reserved for the leader’s foot pedals, while Edgehill finds the space for clever accents on snare and rims. Just check out the drummer’s deft bossa-flavored syncopations on “Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You” for an indiction of how well these three move together.
Scott may have faced an uphill battle in the male hegemony of soul jazz, but her healthy back catalog bears out her ultimate victory over short-sighted chauvinists. The truth, self-evident in these sides, is that she could match chops with just about any of her Y chromosome counterparts. Here’s hoping that Fantasy keeps her reconstituted platters coming and at an even more expeditious pace.
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