If Only for One Night
Recorded on Oct. 19, 1999, this was Earland's last studio album. The organist, known as "the Mighty Burner," died less than two months later. He was admired for his heated, climactic performances and walking-bass-pedal technique (the best in the business, it has been said). Arriving on the scene in the late '60s, he recorded for Prestige, Muse and Milestone before joining HighNote in '97.
This album includes saxophonist and flutist Najee, guitarist Melvin Sparks, drummer Buddy Williams and percussionist Gary Fritz. Before the name Najee gets your defenses up, be advised that the smooth-jazz star flexes his straightahead jazz chops convincingly throughout this session. His sound and style on the title ballad and the stepping "My Blues Is Funky," an Earland original, belong to the preaching tenor tradition. While his soprano work on "My Favorite Things" won't challenge John Coltrane's definitive jazz version of this song, it is a respectable, scale-based treatment. Najee's flute, heard on "All My Tomorrows," "Summertime" and Earland's Latin-flavored "Just for You," is also solid.
Earland's ensemble focus resembles a big-band arranger's in terms of harmonic density, instrumental colors, the structure of his accompaniment, and his rhythmic acuity. The title cut is but one good example. As a soloist, he doesn't scatter random flurries of notes and licks; instead, he builds steadily and purposefully. Rhythmically, each track has a well-defined groove.
Sparks lives up to his name with a hot touch and some stinging lines, especially on Earland's "Keep the Faith" and B.B. King-tinged "Smoke." The drums are infectious and well-recorded (e.g., "Smoke"), and the percussion is clean and valuable to the groove.