Melvin Sparks

Legends of Acid Jazz

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Melvin Sparks' Grant Green and George Benson influences are the basis of a style that can drift into licks playing, but typically pushes into more heady territory. The spectrum of the veteran soul-jazz guitarist's abilities is well covered in this satisfying compilation of his first two releases as a leader: 1970's Sparks! and 1971's Spark Plug. The important action here plays out between Sparks and organists Leon Spencer (six tracks) and Reggie Roberts (four tracks). Drummer Idris Muhammad piles on a relentless attack that makes no concession to subtlety, although some tracks could have benefited from a more varied and nuanced approach. The horn parts are mostly redundant, providing commentary where none is required. Similarly, the solo contributions of tenor players Houston Person, John Manning, and Grover Washington and trumpeter Virgil Jones play a secondary role to the guitar-organ-drums axis. While some tracks dissipate their energies before they are done, the longest track, an 11-minute version of the Eric Burdon & War hit "Spill the Wine," is a highlight. The other key tracks are a cool treatment of Sly Stone's "Thank You"; Sparks' originals "Spark Plug," "Conjunction Mars," and "Dig Dis"; and the compilation's jazzier side revealed on the standards "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and "Alone Together." These six tracks account for most of the CD's 75-plus minutes, making it quite manageable for the listener to work around the occasional stretches of funky filler that crop up elsewhere on the release.

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