The history of jazz is full of great musicians who died tragically young; Clifford Brown, Bix Beiderbecke, Eric Dolphy, Fats Navarro, Charlie Christian, Booker Little, and the seminal Charlie Parker were among the many legendary improvisers who died in their twenties or thirties. But when Jack McDuff passed away on January 23, 2001, at the age of 74, his fans could take some comfort in knowing that he had lived a long and productive life. The soul-jazz/hard bop organist left behind a huge catalog, which is why best-of releases like The Prestige Years and The Best of the Concord Years are sorely needed. While the latter is devoted to McDuff's Concord Jazz recordings of the '90s and early 2000s, this 79-minute CD focuses on his Prestige output of 1960-1965. Although McDuff only spent a fraction of his career at Prestige and was still keeping busy 35 years after leaving the label, Prestige was the company that put him on the map as a recording artist -- and most soul-jazz enthusiasts would agree that he recorded some of his most essential work there. The Prestige Years bears that out; "Rock Candy," "Yeah, Baby," and McDuff's 1960 version of Joe Liggins' "The Honeydripper" are required listening for anyone with even a casual interest in gritty, down-home organ combos. The list of musicians who join McDuff on these recordings reads like a who's who of '60s soul-jazz; Gene Ammons, George Benson, Red Holloway, Jimmy Forrest, and Grant Green are among the major names appearing in the credits. The Prestige Years is far from the last word on McDuff's long recording career -- for that matter, it's far from the last word on his Prestige output. But if one is seeking an introductory overview of McDuff's five years at that label, The Prestige Years wouldn't be a bad investment at all.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson