If you could only own one Melvin Sparks CD...
greg taylor | Portland, Oregon United States | 06/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"....this should be the one. Why? This recording from The Legends of Acid Jazz series is actually the first two Sparks albums (his eponymous debut and Sparkplug) in their entirety. For my ears, this is one of the high points in the whole genre of acid jazz or soul jazz.
The personnel on these early sides are outstanding. For the first album, Sparks was joined by Leon Spencer on the organ, Virgil Jones on the trumpet, John Manning on the tenor and Idris Muhammad on the drums. Houston Person sits in on Charlie Brown and The Stinker. For the Sparkplug date (Sparks' finest hour), he is again joined by Muhammad and Jones. Reggie Roberts mans the organ chair and a very young Grover Washington Jr. tears it up on the tenor.
The songs on the first date are all covers. All are very well done and several are very enjoyable. Sparks' solo on Thank You is outstanding.
But where this CD takes off is during the second session. From the very start of the Kool and the Gang cover, Who's Gonna Take the Weight to the end of Dig Dis we are in soul jazz heaven. Everybody takes tremendous solos but Sparks is the most exciting. He is one of those players whose solo logic sounds innovative and classic at the same time. It is almost as if you can hear his phrases and hooks becoming cliches for an army of imitators as the notes come off his guitar. I love the way this guy plays.
This type of music tends to get no respect from most critics. It is demeaned as formulaic, as easy listening, as the type of music that can be used for background music. Frequently soul jazz or acid jazz is exactly that. On the other hand, when in the right hands (e.g., Sparks or Grant Green or Grover Washington) it is also strong medicine for the soul. I have heard that Duke Ellington once said something to the effect that there is only two types of music: good and bad. Another way to say the same thing might be to say that there is only inspired music or the stuff that people are just playing to make a living. Sparks is inspired on these sides and so are his band mates. If you are a Grant Green fan or you like Swiss Movement or Grover or The Jazz Crusaders (especially when they featured Larry Carlton) or some one like Esther Phillips you will love this stuff. This is the one to get."
Matthias Mazzag | Fredericton, New Brunswick Canada | 11/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's hard to believe no one has reviewed this title yet as it is one of the best of the series. Perhaps that's why, most people just know that it is.The cover of 'Thank You...' is just great, so is the Kool and The Gang cover of 'Who's Gonna Take...'. Organist Leon Spencer is in a great form, just like drummer Idris Muhammad, trumpter Virgil Jones and the rest of this funky crew. There are only two mellow tunes: 'I Didn't Know What Time It Was' and 'Alone Together'. 'Dig Dis' is an exploratory little song, it's more jazzy than the rest of the CD. The remaining 60min is just straight ahead soul-jazz in the best imaginable way!"