Friday, January 08, 2016

Otis Spann Sweet Giant of the Blues

Ace Records in the UK recently reissued a number of recordings that came out on Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman and related labels. Included in these are albums that came out on the BluesTime subsidiary that included albums by T-Bone Walker, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson and Big Joe Turner, along with otis Spann. Thiele had recorded Spann when he was at ABC-Paramount, producing for both Impulse and Bluesway. Both of the Bluesway albums had Spann backed by the Muddy Waters band. For BluesTime, Spann recorded "Sweet Giant of the Blues," which had Spann backed by Max Bennett on bass, Tom Scott on sax, Paul Humphrey on drums and Louie Shelton on guitar.

With this backing group, Thiele took Spann outside the straight Chicago blues setting of his previous recordings and tried to mix in some Latin and funk grooves of the time in an attempt perhaps to reach different audiences. Spann is in fine form, both on piano and singing. Bennett and Humphrey are solid  backing him. Scott plays well, although at times his playing comes across as  busy. Shelton is a good guitarist and his crisp playing on "Sellin' My Thing," a song in the hokum tradition, stands out but at other places his use of fuzz-tone, (perhaps a production decision ) is misplaced and is a distraction on otherwise fine performances like "Moon Blues." This latter title refers to the moon landing but Spann sings about having all that bread to send folks into space, but the cupboard is bare for us and baby we ain't going anyplace. Scott has a terrific flute solo on this with Spann adding splendid accompaniment under it.

"I Wonder Why" and the instrumental "Bird In a Cage" are other songs on which one wishes Shelton had put the fuzzbox away. Spann is terrific, and if not totally enamored with Scott's sax on the former number, I wish Shelton was absent on both. Thankfully he plays without effects on the slow blues "Hey Baby," and on Spann's gospel number "Make a Way," that closes this album. It is unfortunate that these flaws detract from an otherwise fine recording. Spann would have one other recording on BluesTime, the super-session, "Super Black Blues" with T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and a terrific band that included George 'Harmonica Smith that Ace has also reissued and which I unequivocally recommend.

I purchased this.

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