Jimmy Witherspoon's storied career as one of the most immediately identifiable singers in the jazz/blues amalgam was slowed in the 1960s due to an indifferent American public more concerned with show than go. Thankfully, European audiences loved Spoon, as evidenced in this all-too-brief collection of tunes recorded at the famed Olympia Theatre in Paris, France, circa spring of 1961. Singing some of his own famous original numbers and well-known standards, Witherspoon sounds inspired and ready to do business with a great band of jazz legends in a six-piece horn section. A stellar rhythm section led by the great pianist Sir Charles Thompson backs the brass and saxes, also including veterans Gene Ramey on bass, and the incomparable drummer Oliver Jackson. The band can do no wrong, lifting the vocalist up an artistic notch or two, particularly on the slowest of slow tunes, where his masterfully perfect enunciation is his strongest attribute. Vocally, he's lost absolutely nothing, and it is evident from the outset during "I'll Always Be in Love with You," a definitive, easy swinging blues shuffle with the horns, so sweet, a good time, and ramped up by Buddy Tate's vibrant tenor sax solo. Witherspoon embraces classic material with a savvy and wisdom unmatched by all singers, with the lone exception being Joe Williams. He can actually outdo Williams, stretching out on the upbeat "Roll 'Em Pete," especially considering that Tate again is featured on a gem of an accompanied improvisation. Trumpeters Buck Clayton and Emmett Berry, trombonist Dicky Wells, and alto saxophonist Earle Warren are stellar in their ability to buoy or support Witherspoon's soul quotient to the max. But it's Thompson who shines brightest on a instrumental level, as the bop pianist is also capable of deep blues feelings, demonstrated on the ballad "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," the slow and painfully authentic "See See Rider," getting down after-hours style for Witherspoon's "Blowin' the Blues," or on Bessie Smith's inexorably lazy "T'Aint Nobody's Business." You can feel Witherspoon's authentic anguish on the downhearted and real "Everything You Do Is Wrong" as he wrings every drop of emotion from his busted and disgusted heart. On the other hand, there's an anthem still timely for a depressed economy, as "Times Getting' Tougher Than Tough" (incorrectly titled "I Make a Lot of Money") is a classic 12-bar shuffle that defies the passing of time or generations, with Witherspoon pronounced and adamant in his dual purpose as both a producer of cash and high-rolling spender. Though only a scant 33 minutes long, this delightful, potent, and well-recorded set is a quick reminder of how Jimmy Witherspoon, in his prime, was simply the very best at his craft.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos