A funky little wash of strings, a curlicue pattern of zesty tenor sax soul-jazz from neglected would-be legend Monk Higgins, and this postbop LP immediately has you drenched in funk from its opening title cut. No scolding if you don’t recognize the man’s name: Higgins (1930-1986) was the bluesy enlivener of records by the likes of Bobby “Blue” Bland and the Three Sounds, and he’s been sampled up the hilt by hip-hoppers since. You might think of him as a more R&B-leaning tenor version of Lou Donaldson, someone perfect for jukeboxes, more so, perhaps, than the local jazz club.
Zealous collectors have always loved this 1968 album—which is now getting its first CD release—and little wonder. It’s not often that roadside soul pairs well with strings, but this was always a Higgins staple. His horn sings through thickets of quasi-classical violin work on “Little Green Apples,” which also features a tinny effect on John Guerin’s drums that makes it sound as though Higgins and crew are having a good bash in the nursery, a toy trap kit lending a sense of play.
“Doing It to Deff” anticipates Vince Guaraldi’s funky ’70s Peanuts period, with woodwinds counterpointing Higgins’ joyous lurches through a cascade of choruses. “Poker Chips” comes off as a cross between a spaghetti-Western soundtrack outtake and a pastoral that, at slower tempo, might have been an interlude on a Nick Drake record. There is a beefiness in Higgins’ tone on this number that is pleasingly orotund, as if it wants to inhale you into this good time it has going on. No one will resist the temptation.