In the ‘60s, the terms "soul-jazz" and "organ combo" went hand-in-hand -- frequently, but not always. Although organ combos dominated soul-jazz in the ‘60s, there is another valuable part of ‘60s soul-jazz that isn't discussed quite as much: piano trios led by funky, soulful players like Ray Bryant, Bobby Timmons, Ramsey Lewis, and Gene Harris. All of those artists demonstrated that earthy down-home soul-jazz didn't have to have an organ, and Junior Mance was also well aware of the piano's possibilities as a soul-jazz instrument. The Chicago native has often made it clear that piano jazz (to borrow Marian McPartland's term) can also be soul-jazz -- a fact that is quite evident on Sweet and Lovely. This 2004 release unites two of Mance's early-‘60s sessions on a single 77-minute CD: The Soulful Piano of Junior Mance and Big Chief (minus the Big Chief track "The Seasons," which Fantasy omitted due to space limitations). Both albums were produced by Orrin Keepnews for Jazzland/Riverside, and both of them find Mance leading cohesive piano trios. Whether Mance is joined by bassist Ben Tucker and drummer Bobby Thomas on Soulful Piano, or bassist Jimmy Rowser and drummer Paul Gusman on Big Chief, the pianist is in fine form throughout Sweet and Lovely. Mance excels on 12-bar blues themes, and he is equally convincing on standards that range from George Gershwin's "Summertime" and Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" to Thelonious Monk's "Ruby, My Dear". Occasionally, Mance ventures into cerebral territory; "Love for Sale" and the original "Swish," for example, underscore the Chicagoan's ability to play tough, complex, demanding bop changes at a fast tempo. But most of these trio performances thrive on groove-oriented accessibility and will easily appeal to those who prefer their jazz on the melodic side.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson