Masters of Groove Meet Dr. No
Those who were around during the soul-jazz era of the '60s know there's been a lot of putrid instrumental pop equated with those wonderful tunes under the quizzical banners of acid jazz or groove. Great soul-jazz contains two prime ingredients. These are first-rate musicianship and a hypnotic rhythm that grabs hold and forces even folk with three left feet to feel the beat. Sadly, this inaccurate linkage has resulted in genuinely great soul-jazz icons like Jimmy Smith being compared to questionable rockers like Phish. The Masters of Groove disc provides ample opportunity to hear the difference between fake and funk. The Masters are the soul truth. Despite tackling several tunes that are structurally vapid, they're such pros they make them entertaining, sometimes even memorable.
Organist Reuben Wilson doesn't play nearly as fast as Smith, nor display the harmonic imagination with pedals and tones as the late Khalid Yasin. But he's good at delivering potent melodies and catchy phrases, and his solos and statements on a lightweight number like "Dr No Shuffle" gives the song a degree of credibility, as well as some bottom and fire. Bernard Purdie's robust drums and Tarus Mateen's steady, unobtrusive electric-bass licks also bring vital support to material that in lesser hands would be elevator music. A special citation goes out to Grant Green Jr. In the 1999 Miller Freeman-published biography about his late, great guitarist father, Green discussed in detail the difficulties he encountered playing the instrument while his father was still alive. He may not zip through the single-note lines quite as quickly or with the identical flash displayed by his father (who could?), but he demonstrates solid facility on the fretboard, even hitting some nasty riffs underneath some Wilson flurries.
If the quartet were given more unpredictable or challenging music than this pseudo-James Bond soundtrack fare, they'd be even more enjoyable. Instead, Meet Dr. No is finely played, ultimately dispensable fare, notable only because Reuben Wilson, Bernard Purdie and company never stop trying to make it better.