Melvin Sparks

Texas Twister/'75

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Like many soul-jazz musicians, Melvin Sparks moved into funkier directions as the mid-'70s approached, whether out of pressure from marketing trends, a desire to explore that area, or both. Two of his albums from this era, 1973's Texas Twister and 1975's '75, were combined into one disc for this CD reissue. As funk-influenced soul-jazz efforts go, 1973's Texas Twister is a decent one, though not innovative or tremendously exciting. Working as the leader of three different configurations of musicians varying in size from a trio to a ten-piece, Sparks wrote about half of the material and took all the guitar solos, though Ron Miller also played guitar on three tracks. The cuts with the larger band tend to be the funkiest, the group playing with real pluck on "Whip! Whop!" But elsewhere, they lean toward a more straight-ahead soul-jazz direction, with "Judy's Groove" setting a nice swinging, walking beat. "Star in the Crescent" is an effortless throwback to the classic, more bop-driven '60s soul-jazz style, Sparks peeling off some fluid lightning riffs and giving plenty of space to Idris Muhammad's drums and Ceasar Frazier's skittering organ. '75 sounded like a much more determined effort to get into the commercial funk-jazz mainstream. Unsurprisingly, as a consequence the music suffered, coming across as bland jazzy, largely instrumental mid-'70s soul-funk. A couple of tracks even go to the extent of including vocals by Jimmy Scott (not the same guy, from the sound of things, as the cult jazz singer Little Jimmy Scott), though neither he nor the songs are anything special. As further concessions toward commercialism, there are covers of the '60s soul hit "Mockingbird" and the '70s soul smash "Looking for a Love," along with some horn arrangements hinting at a background soundtrack ambience. Sparks does play all the guitar solos, but otherwise little of the identity he'd established with his prior soul-jazz releases comes through on '75's set of fairly languid, anonymous instrumentals.

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