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Reuben Wilson: Azure Te

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Longtime jazz fans can remember organist Reuben Wilson as a soul-jazz trendsetter in the 1960s and early ’70s, when he recorded five albums for Blue Note. The late-’80s generation would discover him via samples from these incorporated into acid-jazz and rap recordings. Today, we’re more likely to grant Wilson a broader identity; i.e., as one of the musical developers (including Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, “Groove” Holmes, Shirley Scott, Jimmy McGriff, Mel Rhyne and Larry Young, among others) who established the still-dominant grooving, bluesy, funky, soulful sound of the instrument in jazz.

This album, which includes guitarist Rodney Jones, drummer J.T. Lewis and, on three cuts, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, is simply a good-time blowing session. “Scrapple From the Apple” shows how Wilson bridges bop and funk with darting lines and blues-drenched chords; Garrett remains straight-ahead and, at times, plays lyrically. “Blues for RW,” a call-and-response tune by Jones, is Wilson’s tried-and-true métier. Garrett wails, and Jones, with fast, staccato lines, suggests George Benson.

But the best performances are the standard “Once in a While,” a read of Johnny Cash’s “Streets of Laredo” and the title track. “Once in a While” and “Azure Te” incorporate Wilson’s chorded approach, and Jones, comping four-to-the-bar behind the organist, is very effective. “Streets” lopes along funkily, wherein the danceable ensemble groove proves most infectious. While jazz has largely abandoned its dance roots, jazz organists such as Wilson continue to reach listeners’ feet.

Originally Published