Organist Lyman Woodard's recording career left gaping holes in a potential discography that has been partially filled after his passing. This issue is one of those missing links, an analog tape of an evening at J.J.'s Lounge in Detroit's Shelby Hotel in 1974 during what was an extended two-year, six-night-a-week gig just as his trio was expanded into the larger Organization. An air check of a fund-raising broadcast for Detroit public radio station WDET-FM, this CD also contains material from Woodard not available on any of his other LPs or CDs. Mainstay of the band Ron English on guitar, drummer Leonard King, and a young saxophonist Norma Jean Bell (around the time she was working with Tommy Bolin and John McLaughlin) join Woodard, and though these recordings have suffered slightly over time, they still sound vibrant, if not fully audible. The set includes a full 30-minute version of Woodard's famous bolero/booglaoo "Cheeba" which is memorable, especially when compared to its similar predecessor, Santana's "Evil Ways" -- listen to both and see if you hear the reference points in the organ lines. The "Organ Interlude" (also titled on the actual CD as "A Portrait of Martha") is another lengthy workout more in the jazz realm, with a tick-tock-to-swing rhythm and Woodard digging in. Pop covers have always been a staple of this group as they intensify the original melodies, but here Bell goes farther out in pushing the envelope with her sax on occasion, and English's guitar gets deeper and more bluesy as the performance goes on. Gato Barbieri's "Last Tango in Paris" is done with additional percussionists Sundiata Keita and Lorenzo Brown; it's a fine reading, and you can hear the influence of Chico Hamilton in King's drumming, which fuels this band. Though sound quality is not optimal, it is better than good in terms of balance, so Live at J.J.'s can be seen as an historical recording that has value in Woodard's catalog. It's a nice bridge between his studio efforts, and his best live date from the Montreux/Detroit Jazz Festival in 1996.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos