Thursday, 1 May 2014

Review: Lou Donaldson - The Natural Soul

After reviewing one too many lacklustre Lou Donaldson albums, I realised that it might look like I don't actually like the alto sax great. But in truth I actually do love Lou Donaldson, or at least his fifties and early sixties classics. So here's perhaps my favourite Donaldson (it might change next week)...

After a direct and successful foray into soul-jazz with ‘Here ‘Tis’, Lou Donaldson took a further step away from hard bop and upped the funk levels a further notch. And as with that first organ effort, Donaldson assembled another crack band, again featuring Grant Green on guitar, with John Patton providing the Hammond this time around (in place of Baby Face Willette), Ben Dixon on the drumstool and Tommy Turrentine (brother of tenor sax man Stanley) on trumpet.

The overall feel of the session is one of a relaxed groove, with the three rhythm men providing a cooking pulse, and despite hitting some fiery highs, the group always sounds easy and comfortably laid-back. Green’s solos in particular simply soar, but also do so leaving a sensation of euphoria and invigoration. Patton and Donaldson for the most part keep up and match Greens heady solos, while Turrentine unfortunately mostly sounds awkward and somewhat self-muted, playing behind Donaldson and keeping his lines short, as if he’s struggling to adapt his trumpet sound from its usual hard bop to suit the slow soul groove being newly asked of him.

The three standards handled here are done so skilfully and full of verve, and with Pattons own ‘Funky Mama’ building up a steamy smouldering mood, while Johnny Acea’s ‘Nice And Greasy’ sounds cheerfully exactly as the title suggests. It’s Donaldsons own originals though that leave the overall indelible impression, which themselves aren’t more than just outlines of blues and souls vamps, riffs and rhythms, but they create the perfect springboard for all five men to work up something truly hot each time.

And it is exactly that which Lou Donaldson is trying to achieve with ‘The Natural Soul’; groove - hot and hypnotic groove. Funky jazz, without being funk, it leaves the listener knowing and feeling more for the chops of all the players involved, with the longer the pieces being, the more room each of the leads has to stretch and fully develop their solos. ‘Funky Mama’ and ‘Sow Belly Blues’ may both be close to ten minutes, but Patton, Green and Donaldson ensure that they pass in no time at all.

A strong jazz album on its own, it can also serve to double up as a backing to a laid-back smokey party without being cocktail music. It also builds on the incredible high standard set by Donaldsons first step into the soul-jazz waters with ‘Here ‘Tis’ and remains one of his very best efforts, in any genre. For the most ideal crossover between the worlds of bop and soul, look no further.


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