At times, McDuff demonstrates how soul-jazz organ stars used to make albums back in their '60s heyday, playing then-current pop hits like "The Age of Aquarius" and the theme from Mission: Impossible (which, thanks to cinema, was a hit all over again in 1996 when this CD was made). We also hear McDuff trying out his vocal cords for the first time on Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry"; actually, he merely talks the lyrics over the rhythm section – and at 70, he's entitled to this charming lark.
Guitarist Gabor Szabo's debut as a leader (after an important stint with the Chico Hamilton Quintet) is surprisingly successful. The reason this LP is a bit of a surprise is that the repertoire (in addition to two originals apiece by the leader and Gary McFarland) has a few unlikely songs by the Beatles ("Yesterday" and "If I Fell") and Burt Bacharach (including "Walk On By"). Usually jazz adaptations of rock songs in the 1960s are lightweight, but Szabo's original sound, the unusual instrumentation (two or three guitars, Sadao Watanabe on flute, Gary McFarland on marimba, bass, drums and percussion) and McFarland's clever arrangements uplift the music. The playing time at 35 minutes is a bit brief, but the performances are better than expected.
Jazz pianist Beegie Adair's series of "romantic songs" songbook albums, devoted to the major songwriters of the interwar era (there are also titles for George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, and Richard Rodgers), tend to have photographs of affectionate couples on the covers, as does this one, featuring the music of Duke Ellington. That's a signal that the recordings are intended to accompany the listeners on their own romantic adventures, as much as express the feelings of the songwriters.
In the late '30s and early '40s, pianist Teddy Wilson was a big deal in the land of jazz. He had many opportunities to perform as a sideman, and eventually got his breaks. These sessions showcase of variety of his efforts with big bands, large ensembles, small groups, and a singer named Billie Holiday. Though none of his own compositions are credited ("Big Apple" should be,) he certainly had a hand in the arrangements, and was given space to play quite a bit of piano. The Hep label has generously provided 23 selections with Wilson and bandmates including stalwarts Hot Lips Page, Lester Young, Freddie Green, Red Norvo and Pee Wee Russell, as well as backing trombonist Benny Morton's All Stars. There are two takes of "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Just a Mood" (Blue Mood,) "When You're Smiling," and "I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me" for contrast sake. The sound reproduction of these vintage performances is excellent, and this one can easily be recommended to both fan and novice.