Road Tested

Hank Crawford & Jimmy McGriff

Milestone Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When is a jazz album not a jazz album?

When Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff came together to record their latest release Road Tested, I'm sure their intentions were good enough. Crawford's alto sax and McGriff's rolling organ lines were made to go together like Swiss cheese on a ham sandwich, but somewhere along the line, the jazz element was lost, replaced instead by a latent r&b vein.

Don't complain... it works. Road Tested contains some very entertaining music - but the real star of the album might not be the two credited musicians on the spine of the CD. But, more on that later...my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Right from the first cut, it feels like Crawford and McGriff are a natural pairing, each playing off the other to create some great music. Surprisingly, many of the songs on this disc were written with lyrics, such as "I Only Have Eyes For You," but Crawford uses his saxophone to substitute for the vocals. Sometimes it works well, but there are times that the limits of the instrument (not the performer) are exposed for all to see.

An example of the limits? Take the cover of "Caravan" - and yes, I know it's always been an instrumental. As good as Crawford is on the sax, there's only so much the instrument can do, and then it's so much vibrato pumped into an instrument that I don't think was ever meant to have vibrato. Again, that's not Crawford's fault; this is something I've noticed more and more with jazz.

But the lighthearted spirit of the sessions is what makes Road Tested work so well. On songs like "Happy Feet," "Mr. P.C." and the title track, this four-piece band swings like there's no tomorrow, often injecting touches of blues and soul into the music. In a sense, they have created their own unique animal with this one - and it makes the hour it takes to listen to the disc fly by.

But the real hero of the sessions is neither Crawford nor McGriff. No, it's guitarist Wayne Boyd, whose talents show from his rhythmic fills to his controlled solos. If there's anyone who deserved equal credit, it was Boyd, and I hope to hear more performances from him real soon. (Also worthy of note is drummer Bernard Purdie, who knows how to make a groove swing.)

It's not often that I find it difficult to describe the experience I had listening to an album for review purposes. But in the case of Road Tested, it's really difficult to describe something that you have to hear and feel to understand. And frankly, if you're looking at getting a quick, painless education in jazz (especially if you've got your feet planted in r&b), this is a great disc to start with.

Enough talk - slap this one on, and take it for a test drive yourself.


Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Milestone Records, and is used for informational purposes only.