Hunting vintage jazz vinyl records in the Nutmeg State
Big John Patton – Freedom Jazz Dance
Big John Patton – Captain Nasty
Big John Patton – Village Lee
Organist Big John Patton hit the Blue Note Records scene with a flurry of soul jazz activity starting in the mid-60s. During that period he played with some of the best that the label had to offer at that time: Grant Green, Bobby Hutcherson, Lou Donaldson, and others. Unlike other post-Jimmy Smith luminaries like Larry Young and Brother Jack McDuff, Patton’s activity during the peak of soul jazz was isolated to the Blue Note record label (there is one date on Cobblestone with Grant Green that bears his name, but I’ve heard discussion that the organist on this LP is in fact Larry Young). Follwing Accent On The Blues, Big John took a long break from recording and Blue Note sputtered to a bit of a halt (although I can’t say that this record is the cause of that).
Favoring intervallic patterns in his right hand while he solos, he likes to gouge the keys of the B3 with more calculated clarity than most. Come to think of it, that might actually make you think less of him as an organist with a little less “dirt” in his sound. Yet I think Big John’s records are easily the most pleasing amongst Blue Note’s soul jazz oeuvre. He is very consistent and has a strong knack for making rhythm an important part of his improvisation.
While my favorite BJP record is Got a Good a Thing Goin’!, a wonderful LP from 1966 where he and Grant Green work well in tandem while drummer Hugh Walker looks on, Accent On The Blues is an interesting set that arrived right at the dusk of the “soul” trend in jazz, as well as the end of the historically fruitful run of the legendary record label itself. While Blue Note would find an opportunity to release music by most of these organists decades after this period, Accent… was the last LP by any of the label’s significant Hammond players to see the light of day when it was actually recorded. For that reason I think it holds some significance, whether it’s my favorite or not.
In my first encounters with BJP (Understanding, the LP Patton cut before this one) I was somewhat underwhelmed. His playing, when you’re just getting introduced to it, seems like calculated, technically-accurate noodling at times. Yet I do find that the more I hear him play the more I can hear him THINK, and in the shadows of men who tried to dazzle with “Incredible” facility, Patton looks like the antithesis of flashiness. Folded into that are soulful stabs at the keys and powerful drones. As such he still carries a lot of the hallmarks of an excellent soul jazz organist.
Accent On The Blues aims to slightly bend towards “new thing” forms of expression, and whether or not it achieves any “out” sort of feelings from the ears of its listeners, it certainly departs from Patton’s groovy niche at times. Just having a jaunty, free-flowing tune like “Freedom Jazz Dance” or the modal tinges found in “Captain Nasty” is departure enough from what you normally hear on one of his records. James Blood Ulmer’s clarion guitar has moments that seem a little more square, a little more searching, than the funky tropes other guitarists might tend to slip into. Marvin Cabell, who credits mostly involve Patton-led outings, plays with abandon at times, and even lets his saxello make an appearance, an instrument you’d expect with jazz fusion rather than soul jazz. None of this probably screams “progressive” or “boundary expanding” but it should convincingly murmur – eyes closed, head bobbing – “nice…and a little different.”
From a collector’s standpoint, I’ve stopped worrying about Liberty/UA period pressings in terms of whether the LP was pressed in the late 60s or early 70s. If we’re talking a pre-Liberty release getting a post-Liberty press, that’s one thing – people seem to feel that the earlier the pressing, the less the quality at Blue Note had gone down. However when it comes to something that came out after the record label was sold to Liberty, I figure that most times the differences are going to be minimal. I picked this up at the tiny record show here in central CT where I picked up Rights of Swing, along with a handful of other later Blue Notes as well as some Johnny Hammond on Kudu. They were all in stunning condition…except for this one. The record plays well enough but the cover has seen better days. I hadn’t seen it in person and I was happy to snag it in playable condition.