I wanted to like this reissue of 1964’s Brown Sugar so much more than I do because organist Freddie Roach’s liner notes are so poetic, so earnest. He describes how he wanted to do “soul show tunes” for the “dancers in my head,” but they must be slow hoofers because much of Brown Sugar has a muggy quality to it, usually due to drummer Clarence Johnston. On the Roach-penned title track and “Next Time You See Me” Johnston plays with almost 1930s-style rigidity to his not-quite-funky-enough drumming. Also on “Brown Sugar,” Eddie Wright’s muddy guitar fights tonally with Roach’s organ during certain sections.
The band fares better on the slow-blues “The Right Time,” which is highlighted by Joe Henderson’s deep, soulful tenor sax. “Have You Ever Had the Blues?” is straight-up period soul-jazz, with Roach leading on the ensemble and solo sections and Johnston sounding like a sorta-funky robot. Quincy Jones’ “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” is sweet-natured schmaltz in this group’s hands, with only Henderson’s breathy tenor lines taking the tune away from the skating-rink crowd it seems geared toward.