This piece was originally published March 1st, 2011.
An incomplete list would include, “The Godfather Of Soul,” “Soul Brother Number One,” “The Minister Of Funk,” “Mr. Please Please Please Please Her,” “The Boss,” “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business,” “The King Of Funk,” “The King Of Soul,” “Sex Machine,” “Minister Of The New New Super Heavy Funk,” and “Mr. Dynamite.”
However there are a few nicknames that he will probably never be known for, like “Mr. Jazzman,” “The Swinging Hepcat,” or “The Emperor Of Jazz.”
Jazz might not be a musical genre that immediately comes to mind when thinking about J.B. but, like so many things that this talent of super human proportions was able to pull out of his musical bag of tricks, James Brown had a definite Jazz side that easily stands proudly alongside the rest of his brilliant oeuvre.
Simply titled Jazz, this is a compilation that brings to light a different side than most would connect to James Brown. Then again, remember that here we have an inimitable man who was filled with creating new sounds and hybrids.
A man fostering his overwhelming obsession for finding “the groove” by way of searching through his own soul. This quest would surely take in a very wide variety of favorite musical genres that could be dipped into as influences as his music might require on the road to that brand new bag.
Among James’ obvious love of gospel, blues and rhythm and blues was a love of many types of music including torch song ballads, Tin Pan Alley standards and as showcased here, Jazz in all its various shades, hard swinging big bands, lighter cocktail lounge type ensembles and more full on…Jazz.
This collection ranges from his groundbreaking ’60s work, as in his stunning version of The Adderley Brothers’ “Tengo Tango” to the ’70s where he would be just as comfortable taking a risk covering “For Once In My Life.”
Few listeners would blink at Brown’s genius here as a producer, songwriter and interpreter of other folk’s material, adding the same dedication to perfection in musicianship as he did with all of his classic work. Sometimes coming off as soul jazz, sometimes more straight up jazz, still he has added his stamp to everything so that it still retains that James Brown essence.
Startling though, is hearing how much of a monster he is at playing the Hammond B-3 organ as he does on “All About My Girl.” I guess when you’re as talented as James Brown, mastering incredibly fast, funky jazz organ riffing comes pretty easy to you.
Brown was always able to cherry pick from some of the world’s finest musicians for his bands and the tracks on this set are no exception to that rule, for instance jazz drummer/band leader legend Louie Bellson appears (side note: Bellson’s band also backed Brown on his equally magnificent album, Soul On Top).
Musicians of this caliber, equally adept at funk, soul and jazz, are the large part of what made the J.B. machine work so well. He could dictate exactly what his songwriting required to the sixteenth note and the musicians delivered it in the pocket.
Jazz includes a couple of songs that were off other J.B. albums, but some appear as outtakes, extended versions, and in the case of a few songs, completely unreleased elsewhere. Instead of any chronological order, the songs are placed so that the sequencing of the tracks makes the album seamlessly flow as though you were listening to a creation that was actually released by Brown in his lifetime.
If you’re a James Brown fan and already own a large part of his output, there is a chance you still might have overlooked this collection. In that case, I highly recommended you purchase it now. If you are a casual James Brown fan, and after owning his essential albums, Live At The Apollo (volumes one and two), Sex Machine, In The Jungle Groove, The Payback, Soul On Top, Black Ceaser—just to name a few, then this is a great album to dip into.
I guarantee that you will dig Jazz—and you can take that to the bridge!
Jazz is available on the Verve Record Group label.