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December 2004

Melvin Sparks
It Is What It Is
Savant

Another Melvin Sparks album, another jazz-funk date. As the title of his new album suggests, guitarist Sparks makes no apology for the stylistic redundancy of his recordings. And at least you can, in most cases, count on the funk being potent and infectious. What he lacks in versatility, he makes up for it in consistency. And one of the advantages of a discography with so many similar entries is that nearly every disc functions as a good entry point to not just Sparks' lickety-split guitar picking but to the entire soul-jazz idiom.

As you'd expect, Sparks' music is heavy on riffs and grooves and is perfectly accented with gospel-inflected Hammond B3 organ accompaniment. The tried and true works delightfully on his blue-collar makeover of Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin" on which his incisive guitar cuts chunky riffs alongside sax statements made by Cochemea Gastalim and Joe Herbek, and on George Benson's R&B hit "Give Me the Night." Originals like the low-down "A Love Jam" evoke an early-'70s sleaziness that'll surely appeal to the Stones Throw Records set, while the humorous "Guitar Playah," which features Sparks' funky vocals, could certainly become a hit among the jam-band crowd.

There's hardly a lick, groove or melody here that you haven't heard (or thought you've heard) a million times before. Thing is, Sparks already knows this and doesn't care.

Originally published in December 2004
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