'Bout Soul does not mean the same thing as soul-jazz, as the opening track "Soul" makes abundantly clear. Written by Grachan Moncur III and poet Barbara Simmons, "Soul" is a tonally free tone-poem that features Simmons' spoken recital. It's about what the concept of soul is, not what soul music is, and that should not come as a surprise to anyone acquainted with Jackie McLean's work. Even as his Blue Note contemporaries were working commercial soul-jazz grooves, McLean pushed the borders of jazz, embracing the avant-garde and free jazz.
For his 11th album as a leader, Denver-based tenorist Fred Hess employed the same excellent sidemen as on his previous two well-received recordings-Ken Filiano on bass, Matt Wilson on drums and Ron Miles on cornet (instead of his usual trumpet), with longtime colleague Mark Harris added on alto. And once again the leader, who holds a doctorate in composition, wrote all the pieces (certainly not “tunes”). Indeed, the emphasis is on Hess’ sophisticated writing, complemented by well-integrated improvisations.
Diane Schuur, who has sometimes been on the periphery of jazz, balances her importance as a dedicated jazz singer with the inclusion of a large dose of pop tunes in her repertoire. Early in her career she had the tendency to screech in her upper register, but with maturity that flaw has largely disappeared and she has become a very impressive singer. Blinded at birth due to a hospital accident, Schuur (who would later be nicknamed "Deedles") imitated singers as a child.
Sweet soulful jazz from reedman Hank Crawford – one of his killer Kudu sessions from the 70s – all of which really helped Hank redefine his sound! The setting here is large and full – put together beautifully by Bob James, with that sense of space for the soloist that makes his CTI/Kudu arrangements so crucial – and light years ahead of what other arrangers were doing at the time. The tracks are longish, but never overdone – and the record has all the soulful alto sounds of Crawford's 60s work at Atlantic, but with a definite 70s bent overall. James plays Fender Rhodes, Arp, and clavinet – and other players include Joe Farrell on tenor and flute, Idris Muhammad and Bernard Purdie on drums, and Richard Tee on additional keyboards.
This session (reissued on CD) was a comeback record of sorts for Leo Parker. Briefly one of the leading bebop baritone saxophonists (and an alumnus of Billy Eckstine's legendary orchestra), Parker shifted to rhythm and blues in the early 1950's and then mostly dropped out of sight until he recorded this set. After cutting a second album, he died of a heart attack at age 36 on Feb. 11, 1962. A guttural player who emphasized the lower register of the baritone and was influenced by Illinois Jacquet, Parker (who is joined by obscure sidemen) sounds in top form during his varied program which includes several hard swingers, the gospellish funk of the title cut and two selections not on the original LP: "The Lion's Roar" and a second version of "Low Brown."
Dee Dee Sharp is best known for "Mashed Potato Time" and "Do the Bird," Top Ten hits in the early '60s. This mid-'70s Philly sound outing has pop leanings that infiltrate the disco so important to the dance music empire of Sharp's husband, Kenneth Gamble. "Love Buddies" is an interesting concept seeing that much of the Philly sound was club oriented, and this first song is the only one penned by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. "Touch My Life" is an adequate tune by James Mendell, but it's Sharp's exquisite voice that really shines, taking over the material and making the entire album listenable.