VOICES Notes and news on Jazz releases
15 JUL 10 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Powerhouse tenor saxophonist Gene "Jug" Ammons -- who lost several years of his prime to incarceration -- might seem like one of the last jazz musicians you'd expect to record a set of hymns, spirituals and church standards like Preachin' (OJC), now part of Concord's digital catalog. But, just imagine the sound of a jailhouse inmate wailing the midnight blues on harmonica. Preachin' cries out this same sound, but on tenor sax instead.
On this May 1962 date, Ammons' searing tenor proves the perfect spiritual foil for Clarence "Sleepy" Anderson's church organ, and his direct, emotional tone amplifies the simple, reverential sentiments of "Yield Not" and "My Prayer," both as rhythmically uncomplicated as a middle school recital. "What A Friend" sounds straight from down home, so comfortingly familiar. "Precious Memories" brings out just a shade of hot funk, with Jug and Sleepy smearing their lines into big blue sheets of sound. Ammons' tone brightens in "Blessed Assurance" as if finding genuine comfort in it, and his recessional, "The Light," leads the congregation out clapping.
1962 proved to be one of Ammons' most prolific years, during which he recorded or released nearly 10 more titles, including Bad! Bossa Nova with guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Kenny Burrell (1989, OJC). Ammons also recorded several other sets with other Hammond B-3 masters such as Johnny "Hammond" Smith and Jack McDuff, compiled on The Gene Ammons Story: Organ Combos (Prestige, '92).