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Jazz : Jack McDuff Rules From the Organ Bench at Marla’s

Sitting at the organ in a yachting cap Saturday night at Marla’s Memory Lane in South-Central Los Angeles, Jack McDuff looked a bit like Count Basie. Even the way he ran his septet from the bench recalled the way the Count ruled.

Not content to preside over just another groove session, the organist brought in a quartet of horns--tenor saxophonist Herman Riley, alto saxophonist Edwin Pleasants, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter and trombonist Thurman Green--and had them flipping through charts, working long unison passages and generally adding some intellect to the funky, blues-washed proceedings. Guitarist Earl Alexander supplied harmonic rhythms while drummer Carl Burnett added splash, crash and drive when called for.

McDuff, who started out as a bassist, supplied his own buzzy bottom end, walking the bass pedals with authority during slow blues, or laying down the kind of up-tempo funk patterns that Bootsy Collins might admire. He also showed a pushy way of accompaniment, suggesting dynamic or rhythmic twists to the soloists in none too subtle ways.

But, like Basie, McDuff was stingy with his own playing. He seemed content just supplying support rather than taking the lead himself and there were too-few moments when the organist displayed his tough, no-nonsense keyboard style. He steamed and grooved through “Killer Joe,” but didn’t even solo during “April in Paris,” his shuffling chords barely audible behind the wailing brass. For the most part, soloing chores were left to Riley’s aggressive tenor and Pleasants’ more reserved alto, a contrast that worked to advantage during a couple of up-tempo numbers.

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That the evening’s opening group, the Jive Five, still has a long way to go seemed understandable in light of the fact that its members range in age from 14 to 18. Despite a surfeit of dues yet to be paid, the five teen-agers, with their sheet-music books and serious stage demeanors, certainly looked the part of young lions waiting for their day.


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