Baby Face Willette

Mo' Rock

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After recording a handful of sessions for Blue Note in the early '60s (including two albums as a leader), organist Baby Face Willette abruptly left the label and soon resurfaced on Argo. Mo-Roc (titled Mo' Rock on the front cover only) is the first of Willette's two 1964 albums for Argo, and it's further proof that if Willette hadn't been so underexposed, he certainly wouldn't be quite so underrated. Mo-Roc is recorded in a trio format with guitarist Ben White and drummer Eugene Bass, who may not be up to the caliber of Blue Note players like Grant Green and Ben Dixon, but are competent and swinging nonetheless. Willette shines brightest on the hard-driving up-tempo cuts, swinging like a madman and displaying more melodic imagination on his instrument than straight blues players. Highlights in this vein include the charging title cut -- dedicated to Chicago's Moroccan Village neighborhood, where Willette played frequently -- and "Zip Five," where the busy melody lines produce some explosive displays of chops from both Willette and White. Not all of the compositions make much of an impression -- some are basically just swinging, mid-tempo grooves -- but it's hard to miss the mysterious, atmospheric "Unseen and Unknown," Willette's tribute to an African witch doctor, which is punctuated by comically manic screams and dissonant, horror-film chords. Overall, Mo' Rock isn't quite up to the level of Willette's Blue Note sessions, but it's still a very respectable outing, and given the unfortunate skimpiness of his discography, his fans should find it rewarding enough to seek out the Japanese CD reissue.

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