Rarely, only very rarely, is a recording released that brings together a host of the greatest jazz musicians on which they all play to the highest of standards. There have been more than a ton of recorded amalgamations of all-star jazz groupings going all the way back to the Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts of Norman Granz. The end result of those kinds of producer-inspired recordings usually finds a host of mismatched musicians all trying to find common ground. While there were more hits than misses on the JATP fests, groupings such as those by Arista and Columbia records in the 1970s had far more misses than hits. One amalgamation of superstar groups that absolutely cooks from first cut to last is the new Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield by the Jazz Soul Seven.
Ostensibly led by one of the most overlooked great guitarists in the history of jazz, Phil Upchurch, the ensemble includes recent Grammy winners Terri Lynne Carrington on drums, bassist Bob Hurst, Wallace Roney who is one of the most dazzling trumpeters ever, stalwart tenor saxophone titan Ernie Watts, keyboardist Russ Ferrante, and percussionist Master Henry Gibson. Covering a number of songs in tribute to the legendary soul/R&B legend Curtis Mayfield, these musicians don't just find common ground, they prove straight-ahead jazz proclivities can reside side-by-side with soul jazz backings.
Wallace Roney's all too short muted solo on "It's Alright" is a gem and his similarly muted solo on "Move On Up" proves his ability to round out solos in the most refined and sensitive manner. Ernie Watts lights it up on "Freddie's Dead," Russ Ferrante of Yellowjackets fame has never been so perfectly reserved yet to-the-fore as he is on this project, and Terri Lynne Carrington plays with a fire that can't be restrained.
The glue that holds it all together is now elder jazz statesman Phil Upchurch. His abilities to give an ensemble just the right feel and groove at just the right moment have long been heralded; would George Benson's early Warner Brothers recordings even been half as good without Upchurch's tight ever-so-right voicings? While Upchurch does take solos, it's his groove-meister status that makes the whole project not just have legs, but swing so darn hard. His opening lines on "Move On Up" are absolutely perfection sublime; that he creates these kinds of soundscapes throughout the project is a testament to his vast jazz, soul and blues knowledge. If you want to hear some of the best musicians, of any era, truly burn-it-up look no further than this marvelous recording.