Leon Spencer: Where I’m Coming From
From Where I’m Coming From (Prestige, 1972)
Gene Russell: Get Down
From Talk to My Lady (Black Jazz, 1972)
Organist Leon Spencer was one of the in-house musicians for the Prestige label which, alongside Blue Note in the 1970s, helped define the “soul jazz” genre. Spencer himself recorded four albums for Prestige, all worth trying to find, though in true Prestige fashion, all had one really hot song but that was usually about it. Of his quartet, this, his last for the imprint, is by far my favorite. The title song is vintage Prestige funkiess: mid-tempo with a strong rhythm anchor, owing no doubt to drummers Idris Muhammed and Grady Tate. Hubert Laws’ flute adds a nice lift without getting too cheesy and Spencer’s organ work is superb, especially on the chorus where he hits that distinctive vamp. B3 Hammond organs are best when used in moderation: anyone who’s suffered through an excessive Hammond solo knows what I’m talking about. Spencer, thankfully, keeps his noodling dialed to moderate and never overstays his welcome despite the song’s six minute+ length. Unbelievably, though Spencer enjoyed his own “Legends of Acid Jazz” anthology, they managed to leave this song off. Say what? Are they crazy?
As for Russell, he headed Black Jazz, a label oft-mentioned in the same breath with Strata East and Tribe insofar as all three were smaller labels, catered to similar kinds of sound, and had more than a few excellent slices of jazz funk to their credit. “Get Down” is one of the best I know of – though Russell’s acoustic piano work is meant to be the focus (this a Hammer Drops posting after all), the real hook is Henry Franklin’s faaaaat bassline at the very beginning that only gets better once Ndugu kicks the drum kit in. The song swings nicely without having to try too hard – seriously, one of the nicest acoustic soul jazz songs I can think of on short notice.