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Fine and Mellow

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Album Review

During his late period — after his release from prison in 1969 up until the time of his death from cancer in 1974 — Gene "Jug" Ammons did the sort of things that one associates with Grover Washington, Jr. He used electric bass and electric keyboards, he incorporated funk rhythms, and he put an instrumental spin on the soul and pop hits of the day. This 2003 release focuses on two of the post-incarceration albums that Ammons recorded in 1972: Big Bad Jug and Got My Own, both of which find the tenor titan moving in a somewhat commercial direction. Like Washington, he usually did it tastefully — and this 73-minute CD, although not perfect, is rewarding more often than not. Jug is a little too MOR on Neil Diamond's "Play Me," but he fares much better on gritty, blues-drenched, expressive performances of the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself," and four classics from Billie Holiday's repertoire: "Strange Fruit," "Lady Sings the Blues," "Fine and Mellow," and "God Bless the Child." Not surprisingly, myopic jazz purists hated Got My Own and Big Bad Jug on principle — especially Big Bad Jug — and felt that Ammons had sold his soul to Beelzebub by embracing Motown, funk, and pop songs. But then, Ammons was always funky to begin with. Jug was never an ultra-cerebral, abstract sort of player — he was accessible and groove-minded in the late '40s and early '50s — and it makes sense that someone who craved Louis Jordan during the Harry Truman years would record a Temptations gem in 1972. Fine and Mellow isn't among Ammons' essential CDs, but for the most part, it paints an attractive picture of the saxophonist's post-incarceration period.

Biography

Born: 14 April 1925 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Gene Ammons, who had a huge and immediately recognizable tone on tenor, was a very flexible player who could play bebop with the best (always battling his friend Sonny Stitt to a tie) yet was an influence on the R&B world. Some of his ballad renditions became hits and, despite two unfortunate interruptions in his career, Ammons remained a popular attraction for 25 years. Son of the great boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, Gene Ammons (who was nicknamed "Jug") left Chicago at age 18 to work with...
Full Bio