Various Artists

Mod Jazz Forever

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The Ace/Kent label's ongoing, if sporadic, Mod Jazz series is a fine example of how to construct an intelligent and highly enjoyable batch of anthologies spotlighting rather obscure tracks (and usually rather obscure performers) in a genre that doesn't get a great deal of attention from history books. Showcasing jazz from the 1960s with a good measure of soul (and sometimes some rock, pop, and funk influence), this is the kind of jazz (or at least jazzy material) that's usually more accessible than most to non-jazz specialists, though it doesn't mean jazzheads of a certain taste can't find it to their liking too. Certainly not many of the artists on this volume are going to be familiar to the general public (and often not even to the specialist collector), with exceptions like Jack McDuff, Buddy Guy (a version of "Fever"), and maybe Johnny "Hammond" Smith and Mark Murphy. The selections are unremittingly hip and, even more importantly for a compilation of this nature, quite varied, from vocals and instrumentals to cuts that approach this kind of fusion as much from a blues or funk angle as a jazz one. It's eclectic enough to make general description hard, but generally you'll find more organ, Latin-influenced beats, and guitars than you hear in most jazz, as well as a willingness to take on some commercial covers that purists might deem beneath them (like Donovan's "Sunshine Superman"). Naming high points is a challenge since those will vary a lot according to individual tastes, but Byrdie Green's "Return of the Prodigal Son" is certainly first-rate penetrating, lyrical and stoic vocal soul-jazz; McDuff's "Screamin'" has a great scampering organ; the Johnny Lytle Trio's "The Village Caller" boasts some unexpected exotica vibes; and Clint Stacy's "The Work Song" is a good version of a classic song that makes a tune that's been done nearly to death fairly fresh. Overall, this is kind of like being able to listen to a crate-digging DJ on a soul-jazz theme night without having to go out to a loud club, and it's unlikely any DJ would have all of this, since five of the tracks are previously unreleased.

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