Baby Face Willette – Stop and Listen

Baby Face Willette Stop and Listen Cover Art

Had jazz organist Baby Face Willette continued on in this vein, he would have been considered one of the greats right up there with Jimmy Smith, Lonnie Smith, and Big John Patton. Unfortunately this was not the case and Roosevelt “Baby Face” Willette disappeared into jazz obscurity after only four albums under his own name. His work, however, shines on, and nowhere does that light shine brighter than on this excellent set of deep soul jazz grooves.

Recorded in 1961, Stop and Listen, Willette’s second album for Blue Note, features a nimble Grant Green on guitar and the always classy Ben Dixon on drums. Together, they provide the perfect accompaniment to Willette’s slow burning B3 organ grooves and as a trio they reach some truly epic heights. What is most astounding, and what keeps me coming back again and again, is the huge depth of sound they are able to achieve with a mere three musicians. Each player is fully immersed in the material and ready to burn the night away in blues and gospel drenched grooves.

“Willow Weep For Me” sets the tone for the rest of the album with deep, gritty, soulful grooves that could easily be described as greasy. And when I say greasy, I mean that in the most complimentary way – the sound of the B3 organ is so slick, the trio’s playing so flexible and organic, that to call it anything but greasy would not do it justice. There is a deep soul reflected in both the material and the playing that is truly remarkable.

Both Green and Willette take excellent, almost economic solos that go for the slow burn rather than soulless flash. Green is deep in the cut and, as he does throughout the entire album, provides some excellent background rhythm playing – it is indeed a joy to hear Green supplying steady jazz rhythms on guitar as the groove slowly simmers. His solo is pure Green in its repetitive figures and groove locked funk and somehow finds complexity in its simplicity. Willette lets loose with a laid back fervor that cuts straight to the heart with a dense, thick, layering of sound that dances on top of his ever pulsating bass lines.

“Chances Are Few” takes us on a journey to a Sunday morning sermon resplendent in a laid back funk that is just pure joy in its contemplative and introspective playing. In direct contrast is the positively boiling Willette original “Jumpin’ Jupiter.” Willette’s solo burns with a fury full of inventive, rhythmic playing that sounds like his organ is about to set fire at any moment. The same can be said for Green who takes a dizzying, spiraling solo that never leaves the groove and continually darts in and out of the churning rhythms. Even Ben Dixon gets a chance to shine on some very well placed drum fills that keep the organ trio running smoothly.

The title track finds the band delivering a funky blues groove full of well placed stop/start riffs while “At Last” gets deep down in the soul with some beautiful playing from everyone involved. Meanwhile, “Soul Walk” takes a medium tempo walk in the deep grooves of a brisk day and “Work Song” rounds out the original album with another toe tapping slice of soul jazz steeped in the blues. The 2008 RVG Remaster adds the always welcome “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the band cooks up another stellar groove that could easily go on all day.

Stop and Listen is somewhat of an anomaly in that you don’t often hear it mentioned, if at all, and yet the music within is of the highest quality. Willette is a consummate organ player that could easily stand his own with the big guys and at times his excellent sense of timing and restraint pushes him just a bit further. Add to that the fact that Grant Green and Ben Dixon are both at the top of their game and you have one fantastic release that really should have been bigger than it was. There is a ton of watered down soul jazz out there but this one is special and stands among the very best. Essential for anyone looking for a little bit more grease in their jazz…

Tracklist

  1. “Willow Weep for Me” – 8:14
  2. “Chances Are Few” – 7:41
  3. “Jumpin’ Jupiter” – 5:11
  4. “Stop and Listen” – 4:38
  5. “At Last” – 7:19
  6. “Soul Walk” – 5:23
  7. “Work Song” – 4:53
  8. “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” – 6:24

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