HERBIE MANN — Memphis Underground (review)

HERBIE MANN — Memphis Underground album cover Album · 1969 · Soul Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
Herbie Mann was one of the most prolific jazz artists ever and was never one to shy away from trying out the latest trends and styles so that he could record yet one more album. Sometime in the late 60s, in between recording with Middle Eastern musicians and Jamaican musicians, Mann took part of his touring band over to Memphis to record with some local studio RnB musicians. The resultant album, “Memphis Underground” is a decent late 60s RnB instrumental album, but like so much of Herbie Mann’s output, its catchy and hip, but nothing remarkable.

Its an interesting bunch of soloists from his touring band that Mann brought to the session. Vibraphonist Roy Ayers, jazz-rock shredder Larry Coryell and oddest of all, the ear-bleeding noise damage of guitarist Sonny Sharrock, always an odd fit with Herbie’s groovy good-times beatnik vibe, but also a welcome difference too. Sonny is kept in check for most of the album, until the end of “Hold on I’m Comin” where he breaks out his slide guitar fuselage for some noise that I’m sure had some unsuspecting listeners in shock. Most of the songs on here are pretty good except for the lengthy workout on the old anthem for the north during the American Civil War, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. I’m sure there was some cultural significance to having a bunch of southerners play the northern anthem, but as a piece of music it’s a bore.

One of the best cuts on here is Herbie’s one original. “Memphis Underground”, an excellent groover that mixes laid back Memphis RnB with Jamaican reggae. Of the different soul covers, “Chain of Fools” hit’s the best groove and holds it. If you like Herbie Mann, or this sort of retro 60s proto-acid jazz, you’ll probably want to get this.
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