Eddie Jefferson's final recording before his tragic death is a tour de force session that showcases a love for big-band type horn sections, his indefatigable ability to scat and write original vocalese lyrics, and his enthusiasm for life. At a time when his overdue star was rising, Jefferson compiled a list of his most well-known numbers, a few standards, and modified songs with his newly penned words, then modified them into different stories of life and the pitfalls of romance. Leon Thomas and Inner City head honcho Irv Kratka produced the session, while Slide Hampton did most of the excellent arrangements and plays trombone. The horn section also features sidekick alto saxophonist Richie Cole, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, and unsung trumpeter Charles Sullivan, with the brilliant pianist Harold Mabern, bassist George Duvivier, and drummer Billy Hart in the rhythm section. Done in 1977, these tracks have all become classics and distinct identifiers as to what made Jefferson the main cog in progressive vocal jazz circles for all time. If you are a student of jazz vocals, then the classic ballad "Moody's Moody for Love" subtitled "There I Go" should be high on any list for analysis, while a controlled take of "Exactly Like You" is exemplary for the way Jefferson could play it straight, scat like no one else, and encourage bandmembers like Sullivan and Mabern to play solos just on the edge of the mainstream. "Jeannine" and "Bennie's from Heaven" are Jefferson's ultimate storyboard adaptations, the former an extra tasty soul-jazz groove about a flighty lover gone from sight, the latter a quizzical tale of a soldier returned from duty to find a pregnant wife, stating "Benny must be from heaven, 'cause he darn sure ain't from me." At heart a bebopper, Jefferson wails on "Confirmation," perfectly exclaiming it's the music that saved the nation and allowed it to be free, while "Summertime" steams with the ripeness of that season, as he extrapolates wonderfully on the main lyric, with adept knowledge in a brilliant display on his keen powers of observation. "Night Train" is another soul-jazz exercise in wishful thinking on bringing his baby back, and is as closely identified as any song Jefferson ever interpreted, while "Freedom Jazz Dance" has a fairly straight lyric relating to his days as a tap dancer that has been interpreted by many others after his passing, and is another tune prime for close study. Jefferson was exploring "the out cats" at this time, and was seeking a means to make his music more progressive, and there are hints at this stylistic evolution on this recording. After being out of print for many decades, The Main Man is finally available, and stands as a shining testament to perhaps the last truly great and innovative jazz singer in the modern era.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos