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Album Review

Often as not, a musician's archive tapes end up being mere curios, interesting only to historians and die-hard fans. Thankfully, the aptly titled Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin' at Morey Baker's Showplace Lounge isn't one of these. Detroit guitarist and producer Dennis Coffey (one of Motown's famed Funk Brothers and a hitmaker in his own right), organ virtuoso bandleader Lyman Woodard, and drummer Melvin Davis, played weekly at the storied club on Detroit's West Side. They'd been together two years working constantly, and their woodshedding shows: This trio is as committed to discovery as they are to a discerning audience. The instrumental set (originally recorded by Mike Theodore and Bryan Dombrowski) captures Detroit's soul-jazz scene at a creative lift-off point.

"Fuzz," one of two originals, highlights the band's effortless ability to create a unique language from soul-jazz, funk, and psychedelic rock. Coffey's distinct phrasing puts the blues in everything. Woodard's imaginative chord colors and whomping vamps are an excellent foil and Davis is the hub with skittering, driving breaks. The other, "The Big D," is saturated in Coffey's snaky wah-wah pedal leads amid choppy, swirling B-3 chords and Latin-tinged rimshots. The trio virtually reinvent pop and soul tunes from the era as platforms for extended — and funk-drenched — jazz improvisation, all with a distinct, historic, Detroit signature. Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" is revisioned through the lens of soul as Coffey takes massive liberties with the melody, propelling it into a different harmonic space without completely abandoning it. The interplay between him and Woodard extends the rhythmic ledge through several startling changes. Their aggressive and imaginative solos never sacrifice groove; besides, it's ensured by Davis, who is always in the pocket. Bacharach and David's "The Look of Love" expands on the Sergio Mendes version. They alter its phrasing and rhythmic approach sharply, transforming it into a stratospheric jazz jam before bringing it back down to earth. The reading of "Casanova (Your Days Are Over)," by singer Ruby Andrews (Coffey played on the Top Ten single), is a riff and vamp orgy as guitarist and organist trade meaty, masterly solos throughout. They travel through funk, blues, jazz, and soul in alternate stages, with Davis adding tasty breaks, accents, rolls and fills. Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" is relatively straight, but here too, tempo alterations and harmonic subtleties manage to expand its structure and add something new. "Wade in the Water" is a Motor City-styled tribute to the hit Ramsey Lewis version, led by a swelling, gospelized organ. The tight snare breaks and biting funky blues guitar make it a fingerpopping closer chock-full of grease and grit. Given the age of its source tape, the sound on this nugget is remarkably good; each instrument is clear, and even with the tapes' deterioration, the club ambience is felt. The booklet contains copious liner notes, rare photos, and an interview with Coffey. This is a burner from start to finish, enjoyable for anyone with a pulse.

Customer Reviews

How bout a vinyl!

Heard a review on NPR and just had to immediately buy the album! Please make vinyls!


Born: November 1, 1940 in Detroit, MI

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '10s

Dennis Coffey remains an unsung hero from the halcyon era of Detroit soul, contributing guitar to landmark records issued on the Motown, Ric-Tic, and Revilot labels in addition to cutting a series of efforts under his own name, most notably the cult classic blaxploitation soundtrack Black Belt Jones. Born and raised in the Motor City, Coffey learned to play guitar at age 13 while visiting relatives in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Though a fan of country music throughout adolescence, while attending...
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