Clifford Jordan's Soul Fountain was recorded for Atlantic in 1966 and produced by no less a talent than Arif Mardin. It was not released until 1968 and then reissued properly in 1970 on the Vortex imprint, by which time Jordan had become an American expatriate living in Europe as so many other jazzmen had. The bottom line is that there was no good reason for any of it. This may be, like Jordan's Plays Leadbelly album, a recording of deep roots music -- in this case soul -- but as a jazz album with big fat grooves, stellar playing, and arrangements, it's a monster. The bands (a bit different on sides one and two) tell a big part of the story of the album. The first five tracks -- the front side -- feature Jordan on tenor and piano, Jimmy Owens on trumpet and flugelhorn, Julian Priester on trombone, Frank Owens playing both piano and B-3, Ben Tucker on upright bass, Bob Cranshaw on upright and Fender electric bass, drummer Bob Durham, and percussionists Orestes Vilató and Joe Wohletz. The music on side one includes the smoking Ben Tucker jams "T.N.T." and "H.N.I.C.," the first of which is a complete soul-jazz groover with big-boned tenor work by Jordan knotted up in the best Blue Note early three-horn front-line '60s fashion: it's where hard bop met the extrapolated sounds of Latin boogaloo and Ray Charles-styled big-band soul. Tucker's grooves were scorching. The latter tune, written in a minor key, offers more Latin grooves with the same front-line 12-bar blues set up with beautiful call and response, a knotty chorus, and wonderfully seamless harmonies among the horns. Jordan contributes a pair of originals to the side (and three overall). The first is "I've Got a Feeling for You," coming right out of the groove territory with those hand drums popping in and around the piano played by Cliff, and a snarling B-3 workout in the fills by Frank Owens. It's suave, spunky, and swaggering with great trumpet work by Jimmy Owens. Jordan's latter tune on the side is a too-brief little calypso fueled hard bop number. The kit work by Durham is hot and the Jordan solo swings hard and in the pocket. The other tune on the side is a burning funky workout on James Brown's "I Feel Good" with amazing trombone work by Priester, who could have been a part of the '70s J.B.'s in a heartbeat, as his sense of propulsion and rhythm is infectious -- and Durham's breaks are smoking and in the pocket.
Side two offers a bit of a change: Big John Patton plays organ, Billy Higgins plays drums, and Ray Barretto replaces Vilató on congas! Three tunes make up the side: one is a reading of Horace Silver's "Senor Blues" that is so full of Latin groove that it drips. Jordan's interplay with the drummers and Patton is rich, wrangling, his best Sonny Rollins in the role and taking it outside -- slightly -- via Coltrane. The breezy "Eeh Bah Lickey Doo," by the saxophonist is a shimmering, lightly funky riff-based blues with Jordan playing flute to change things up -- the tonal contrast between his little woodwind and Patton's B-3 simmering is very hip -- especially when Big John takes his solo. The final track, written by Priester and Abbey Lincoln is called "Retribution." It's the most complex tune here rhythmically, juxtaposing an intensely clave rhythm against a straight cut time and the front-line playing right in between the two signatures. Priester's lyric sense is complex but utterly accessible, and when Jordan takes his solo following that fat downbeat where it all comes together, he can walk between both poles effortlessly. Patton just pushes from the inside out and finds the horn in the corners. Barretto even at this point was offering a dimension on other people's recordings that was singular. He sounded like no one else and his manner of reading the hard bop accents and angles through boogaloo added a hip factor of ten to the side. Priester's solo is brief, followed by Jimmy Owens' before they bring it all back to that melody, closing it out on a very high point indeed.
Certainly, Jordan's great accomplishments as a leader -- the two Glass Bead Games volumes and In the World on Strata East, as well as Night of the Mark 7 from the '70s are regarded as high marks in his career, but this side should not be counted out by any stretch of the imagination. Mardin's production work adds the right amount of warmth and Jordan is clearly relaxed and in control, walking the razor's edge between the hard bop past, the present-day soul, and the future openness that he would embrace wholesale a couple of years later. This is a fine set and well worth pursuing whether on wax or via the Wounded Bird reissue (it needs to be said that the latter's program of reissuing Atlantic and Warner jazz from the early '70s is really special in that it highlights work that has been forgotten or was entirely ignored).