Jimmy McGriff – 1971 – Soul Sugar
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A fantastic album, and one of Jimmy’s hardest to find! The set is quite different than most of Jimmy’s other work – and it features short, hard, funky tracks that feel more like obscure 7″ singles than any of Jimmy’s straighter soul jazz work. It almost sounds like The JBs are backing him – as the drums are tight, bass is great, and the overall groove is fantastic! The record’s a little like Jimmy’s Electric Funk album, but harder, with more breaks and basslines – and a non-stop groove that’s a pure delight for any fan of deep funk!
A1 Sugar, Sugar 2:46
A2 Ain’t It Funky Now 3:39
A3 Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours 2:49
A4 Dig on It 3:08
A5 Bug Out 3:04
B1 The Now Thing 2:57
B2 You’re the One 3:13
B3 Fat Cakes 3:49
B4 New Volume 3:36
B5 Spirit in the Dark 2:48
The Sonny Lester-produced Soul Sugar looms large in Jimmy McGriff’s vast catalog – while it’s a fool’s errand to pick the organist’s absolute funkiest recording, this one demands serious consideration. Without personnel credits, it’s impossible to know who’s backing McGriff here, but the rhythm section is nonetheless superb – cuts like “Dig on It” (later sampled by A Tribe Called Quest), “Fat Cakes“, and “The Now Thing” rival the Meters for sheer soulfulness. The covers are no less impressive – while renditions of James Brown’s “Ain’t It Funky Now“, Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered“, and Aretha Franklin’s “Spirit in the Dark” remain true to the spirit of the original recordings, the ingenious arrangements also allow McGriff and his band panoramic stretches of space to explore.
This 1971 session finds McGriff continuing to do like so many other jazz musicians of the time: embrace and adapt to the emergence of funk and soul into mainstream music, and recontextualize it in a jazz arena. The results are an unsurprisingly delicious slice of jazz-funk made from the finest ingredients. The superb playing of Richard Davis on electric bass is unquestionably the anchor throughout the album’s nine slices, leaving McGriff and company to follow suit with loose (but not too far out) improvisation that’s as equally relaxing as it is invigorating. While McGriff’s adventurous side is slightly tamed, it’s that willingness to improv and blend together as a cohesive unit that makes Groove Grease such a tasty statement that is consistently fresh with repeated listenings.