The Natural Soul finds Lou Donaldson delving deeply into soul-jazz, recording a set of funky, greasy instrumentals with only a few references to hard bop. Donaldson occasionally sounds a little awkward with the relaxed groove of The Natural Soul, as does trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, but the trio of guitarist Grant Green, organist John Patton, and drummer Ben Dixon keep things cooking. Green and Patton's solos often burn and are always invigorating, and Lou frequently matches their heights. The original compositions - which form the bulk of the album - aren't much more than blues and soul vamps, but they provide an excellent foundation for the combo to work hot grooves. And, in the end, that's what The Natural Soul is about - groove. It maintains the high standards Donaldson established with his first soul-jazz foray, Here 'Tis, and remains one of his best records in that genre.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine (All Music Guide)
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Lou Donaldson - The Natural Soul
When Mr. Kennedy assumed the presidency of the United States, he told the country in his inaugural address, "Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." The same question in jazz terms should be posed to the many jazz musicians, critics and jazzophiles in the following terms: "Ask not what is wrong with jazz, but what you are doing to keep jazz the happy, swinging sound that makes you tap your foot, snap your finger and respond to its excitement."
It would not be surprising to hear that only a handful of jazz partisans respond in the affirmative. The others could not possibly offer any evidence of their willingness to keep jazz swinging.
The past ten years have seen the jazz world filled with anxious musicians experimenting with new sounds while peering over their shoulders at the critics, hoping for critical acceptance. Their musical message has been geared to the pseudo critics who have done everything possible to remove jazz from its real roots. And in this craze to make jazz supposedly respectable, jazz was taken from the people.
Nineteen sixty-two might well be the year that jazz historians will call "the year jazz returned to the people."
What is the people's jazz? Look over the vast library of Blue Note albums. While the country was immersed in the avalanche of "hit tunes" that lasted for six weeks and the dubious "million" sellers, Blue Note has consistently turned out a respectable jazz that swings, has a beat and is filled with happiness. Very few record companies can compare with Blue Note's recording history for swinging, earthy, funky and soulful jazz.
One of Blue Note's most consistent contributors to happy jazz is Lou Donaldson. In the attempts to categorize his place as an alto saxophonist and musician, Lou has the distinction of being good. And he has been good for a long time.
This may not seem complimentary, but think for a moment of the many performers over the past years who have been labeled "great" and lasted only for the duration of the time the disc jockeys played their records.
In showbiz lexicon, "great" has become such a loosely applied term that the excellent performer who is consistent in his performance of superb quality has been left in the shadows.
Only recently, a major record company produced an album of a youngster they called the World's Greatest Saxophonist. (Incidentally, I have yet to play this album on my daily six-hour show. This is my opinion of what they call "great.") If this untried saxophonist is the greatest, where does this leave a veteran jazzman like Lou Donaldson?
Lou Donaldson is known among his jazz brothers as a dedicated artist. He takes his responsibilities seriously. He is the actor who turns out top-notch performances each time out. He is the consistent .300 hitter in baseball. He is the steady golf player who always shoots in the low 80s. He is the good back in football who always has the ability to churn out the necessary yardage for the first down.
As a veteran performer, he knows the difficulties younger musicians face while hoping for a chance to be heard. He has not been selfish. He has brought many of those young musicians to the attention of Al Lion of Blue Note where they received their first recording dates. Many have become leading recording artists as a result.
And through this long career of being a top-flight musician and still not receiving overwhelming accolades, he has not forgotten the people. His music displays that rare feeling of happiness with the earthiness and feeling of swing.
This present album could not carry a better title, The Natural Soul. For Lou Donaldson does not believe in gimmicks. There is no gimmickry here.
This album is a beautiful follow-up to Blues Walk and Gravy Train. On those gems, the people tapped their feet and snapped their fingers as they heard the records on record players, on radio and on thousands of jukeboxes throughout the country.
They will do the same when they hear John Patton's "Funky Mama."
Once again surrounding himself with young, talented jazzmen not ashamed of taking the funky route to soulville, the group projects an intensely warm, rollicking feeling of swinging blues. Grant Green's guitar work stands out in his solo, crystal clear with touches of the down-home, gut-bucket guitar. Tommy Turrentine, an able trumpeter who has been in the shadows too long, emerges brightly with a solid, almost liquid-like tone for his solo. Patton's organ work remains light, never ponderous. He is in total sympathy at all times with the group and his solo contribution keeps it moving and shuffling right along. Ben Dixon's back beat is steady all the way.
This is standard fare throughout the album. The group is never afraid to let you, the listener, swing with them. You'll listen and react with them. You can almost visualize the happy expressions of the musicians as they play.
Lou Donaldson's love for a beautiful tune is evident in all his recordings of ballads. He manifests a tone that is almost incomparable with any ottoman today. After Lou establishes the opening theme of "Love Walked In," he offers room for Patton, Turrentine and Green to improvise around the melody without ever losing the essential beat.
"Spaceman Twist" has Lou once again taking the lead on this original. The group never soars out of sight. They lift you just high enough off the ground to keep you in a happy groove. Turrentine's solo here again is inventive and clear, and bristles with ideas.
Grant sweeps in and continues the spiraling before the musical capsule is set down. But not before Patton punctuates the air with some smooth organ manipulations.
"Sow Belly Blues" brings a fullness of sound to the group with a set of breaks that gives it a big-band sound. Lou really digs in on this set and never loses his Donaldson sound as he steps aside for Tommy.
"That's All" showcases Lou's sympathy and understanding for a ballad-it need not be sickly saccharin, but can be light and lovely, sweet and pungent. This is what is offered.
"Nice 'N' Greasy" might easily be called "the city boy's last night in the country." The bright lights of the city and the assumed sophistications have not dimmed their appreciation for goin' home to the roots.
The Natural Soul brings increasing evidence that soul is going to play an even greater part in jazz. The people want to respond to music. After all, it was the great Fats Waller who said years ago, "If you don't feel it, don't mess with it." You'll feel this album.