Between 1976 and 1979, Jimmy McGriff was often featured in the disco-style productions of Groove Merchant house arranger Brad Baker. The records usually surrounded the great organist with a huge army of studio musicians, big horn sections, string parts and often heard McGriff playing keyboards other than organ. THE MEAN MACHINE, from 1976, was the first of these productions and McGriff doesn't even play organ here. The six tunes, none by McGriff, make for a kind of anonymous, but better than average funky dance music typical for the time. When Baker's horn or string charts aren't carrying the melodies, reedman Joe Thomas does a good job filling in on tenor sax or flute. McGriff never really sounds distinctive - or out front - on the Fender Rhodes, synthesizer or clavinets he plays here. But if this kind of music is your bag, it's really quite well done (sample the dancefloor hit "It Feels So Nice" to hear). Four of the six tracks here were included on the 1994 RED BEANS CD. Another, "Pogo's Stick" (perhaps McGriff's best feature here) is also on the DIG ON IT McGriff CD compilation.
Ironically enough, The Mean Machine captures Jimmy McGriff at his sweetest--employing electric piano as much as his signature organ, its grooves are disappointingly tepid, favoring a CTI-inspired smooth jazz approach at odds with McGriff's essential funkiness. Brad Baker's lush arrangements are largely to blame here, evoking the sound but not the kinetic energy of blaxploitation cinema--Joe Thomas' lighter-than-air flute solos further smooth out the music's rougher edges. Worst of all, McGriff seems disengaged, doing little above and beyond going through the motions--of course, with material as corny as titles like "Pogo's Stick" and "Overweight Shark Bait" portend, it's tough to criticize him for checking out.
Classic snob review of a 70s jazzfunk LP. If you ask me, this is the strongest of Jimmy's "disco" albums (i.e., string arrangements by Brad Baker, no B-3 and more funk than blues or jazz), mostly due to the assistance of Joe Thomas and Cornell Dupree.
Cornell Dupree should need no introduction as he's been credited on over 2,500 sessions since starting with King Curtis in the early 60s. Even if you don't know who he is, you've heard him more than you would think. In fact, some of your favourite licks likely came from him whether you know it or not.
Joe Thomas was an under-appreciated horn and flute player. He definitely brought the funk during the 70s and I highly recommend looking into his solo discography if you haven't already done so (all courtesy of 4 Brothers Beats unless otherwise noted):
Apparently this was reissued in the past few weeks on Pid and AMG shows it as being released last year by LRC but it doesn't seem to be available at most of the regular outlets. Until you're able to get your hands on a hard copy you can get it from SoundologicalHERE or HERE.
Tomorrow we'll be following up this post with Red Beans, so hang tight. While you're waiting, here's a look at J. McG's Groove Merchant / LRC output from the 70s: