Reel to Real RTRCD011

Jack McDuff (Hammond B3 organ); Vinnie Corrao (guitar); Ron Davis (drums); Leo Johnson (tenor sax, soprano sax); Dave Young (tenor sax, soprano sax); unknown trumpet player

Recorded The Gallery, Seattle, Washington, 13 September 1972

Jack McDuff, who often went by the moniker of ‘Brother’ or ‘Captain’, was one of a number of organists who followed in the wake of the innovative soul-jazz style of Jimmy Smith. McDuff was originally a bassist and pianist, but apparently switched to the organ when requested by a club owner. Afraid of being sacked, he taught himself to play the Hammond B3, and soon discovered it was a natural fit for his talents.

In the 1960s, he released a series of critically acclaimed albums on Prestige Including the 1961 release The Honeydipper), and in 1963, gave a young guitarist called George Benson his first big break. Benson stayed in the band until 1965 (although he would make further recordings with McDuff) and his replacement was Vinnie Corrao, who plays on this release.

Corrao didn’t stay in the band for long, but re-joined in 1972, which is why he’s on this gig. McDuff was renowned for his organ trios, but on this album, the band line-up is augmented by two tenor saxophonists, Leo Johnson and Dave Young. The album is mixed so that Johnson’s horn can be heard on the left-hand channel and Young’s on the right. On the second platter of this 2-disc release, an unknown trumpeter joins the horn section. Drummer Ron Davis got the gig on the recommendation of Corrao, but only stayed a short period, so this is a rare opportunity to hear this line-up. The Gallery club only operated for around a year.

By the time this recording was made, the organ was losing its lustre as a jazz instrument, with the electric piano and the first analogue synthesisers beginning to attract the growing attention of many jazz keyboardists – even McDuff added them to his keyboard arsenal in the 1970s, on albums such as the 1975 release Magnetic Feel (which included Benson on guitar).

This album is released by Reel to Real records, a label which specialises in previously unreleased archival recordings. These recordings are from a reel-to-reel tape owned by Seattle DJ Jim Wilke, who recorded this gig during a mid-week performance of the band’s four-night residency. The sound quality has been tweaked and improved, and generally sounds good, with each instrument clearly heard in the mix.

Such is the nature of these projects, that documentation is patchy (one musician is unknown, as is the title of one song; and one track is incomplete). Nevertheless, there’s plenty on disc to please McDuff fans. The CD version comes with a double fold-out digipak, with graphics and photos, plus a 32-page booklet that includes photos, facsimiles of adverts from the time, and an extensive essay by associate producer Andrew Scott that includes quotes from George Benson, Vinnie Corrao and

Leo Johnson (McDuff died in 2005, and Young in 2009). There are also interviews with organists Delvon Lamar, Larry Goldings and Brian Charette.

The opening number ‘Theme From Electric Surfboard’ appeared on the 1969 album Down Home Style and lasted under four minutes. On this release, it’s transformed to a near ten-minute funky blues workout, driven by Corrao’s extended guitar vamp and Davis’s steady, pounding beat. McDuff lays down sweeping swirling lines on the Hammond B3 and the tenor saxophonists take it in turn to play the theme. As if a nod to the changing musical times, Corrao adds wah-wah-drenched phrases here and there, while McDuff tweaks the organ’s drawbars to make it sound as if he’s playing an electric piano through a ring modulator.

The band plays a delightful 14-minute rendition of the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice,’ with the horn section harmonizing on the theme and McDuff mixing chunky chords with a beefy walking bass line. The title track is a cover of Bill Withers’ now classic ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ which at the time of this recording, had been a hit the previous year. McDuff’s finesse as an arranger is to the fore on this number, with his sound building up to a pitch on the song’s famous, ‘I know, I know..’ section. Johnson plays a fluttering flute solo on this piece.

McDuff stretches out on ‘I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,’ his sound and feel matching the song’s yearning title, and Johnson adds mournful sax lines. The last number on disc one, ‘Blue 1 & 8’ is a swinging piece that starts with a bustling drum intro.

The second disc offers a diverse set. The opener ‘Unknown’ lasts for 14-minutes, with a tense, nervous sound and band that is cooking. ‘6.30 In the Morning,’ is a gentle bossa-nova, featuring an unknown trumpet player and McDuff’s organ once again, sounding more like an electric piano. The closer, ‘Broadway’ is another swinging number featuring more stirring trumpet lines and leaving the audience on a high.