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Jazz - Released January 1, 1957 | Blue Note Records

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The influence of Charlie Parker can be heard in virtually every modern jazz musician, particularly players of the alto saxophone. Although considered to be one of "Bird's children," Lou Donaldson absorbed and synthesized other pre-Parker influences, such as Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter. This recording marks a period in his development prior to a stylistic shift away from bop and toward a stronger rhythm and blues emphasis. Three up-tempo tunes are pure bebop; the remaining number is a medium blues in B flat, quite characteristic of the hard bop period. The front line on this set includes Donald Byrd and Curtis Fuller; the rhythm section is Sonny Clark, George Joyner, and Art Taylor. Overall, Lou Takes Off breaks no new musical ground, but it is a solid, swinging session of high-caliber playing. [An edition remastered by Rudy Van Gelder was issued in 2008.] © Lee Bloom /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1967 | Blue Note (BLU)

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Alligator Bogaloo is one example of Lou Donaldson's successful combinations of hard bop and soul-jazz. Of the six tunes, three are Donaldson originals, including the title hit. The excellent band, consisting of Melvin Lastin, Sr. on cornet, George Benson on guitar, Lonnie Smith on organ, and Leo Morris on drums, mixes laid-back vamps beneath driving hard bop charts. As the '60s turned into the '70s, Donaldson began shaving off hard bop invention for a more radio-friendly and 45 rpm length, leaving soulful -- yet monotonous -- vamping. At that point, Donaldson's material suffered from a lack of originality. That's not the case on Alligator Bogaloo. © Al Campbell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1987 | Blue Note Records

Lou Donaldson's undisputed masterpiece, Blues Walk, marks the point where the altoist began to decisively modify his heavy Charlie Parker influence and add a smoky, bluesy flavor of his own. The material is still firmly in the bebop vein, and the mellower moments aren't as sleepy as some of Donaldson's subsequent work, so the album sounds vital and distinctive even as it slows down and loosens things up. That makes it the definitive release in Donaldson's early, pre-soul-jazz period, but what elevates Blues Walk to classic status is its inviting warmth. Donaldson's sweetly singing horn is ingratiating and melodic throughout the six selections, making even his most advanced ideas sound utterly good-natured and accessible. The easy-swinging title cut is a classic, arguably Donaldson's signature tune even above his late-'60s soul-jazz hits, and his other two originals -- "Play Ray" and "Callin' All Cats" -- are in largely the same vein. Elsewhere, Donaldson displays opposite extremes of his sound; the up-tempo bebop classic "Move" provokes his fieriest playing on the record, and his romantic version of "Autumn Nocturne" is simply lovely, a precursor to Lush Life. The addition of Ray Barretto on conga is a subtle masterstroke, adding just a bit more rhythmic heft to the relaxed swing. There are numerous likable records in Donaldson's extensive catalog, but Blues Walk is the best of them all. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1967 | Blue Note (BLU)

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Alligator Bogaloo is one example of Lou Donaldson's successful combinations of hard bop and soul-jazz. Of the six tunes, three are Donaldson originals, including the title hit. The excellent band, consisting of Melvin Lastin, Sr. on cornet, George Benson on guitar, Lonnie Smith on organ, and Leo Morris on drums, mixes laid-back vamps beneath driving hard bop charts. As the '60s turned into the '70s, Donaldson began shaving off hard bop invention for a more radio-friendly and 45 rpm length, leaving soulful -- yet monotonous -- vamping. At that point, Donaldson's material suffered from a lack of originality. That's not the case on Alligator Bogaloo. © Al Campbell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1960 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

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Sunny Side Up is closer to hard bop than the straight-ahead bop that characterized Lou Donaldson's '50s Blue Note records. There's a bit more soul to the songs here, which pianist Horace Parlan helps emphasize with his lightly swinging grooves. The pair help lead the group -- which also features trumpeter Bill Hardman, drummer Al Harewood and bassist Sam Jones (Laymon Jackson plays bass on two of the eight songs) -- through a mellow set of standards and bluesy originals from Donaldson and Parlan. Even the uptempo numbers sound relaxed, never fiery. Despite the general smoothness of the session, Donaldson stumbles a little -- the quotation of "Flight of the Bumblebee" on "Blues for J.P." is awkward, as is the snippet of "Pop Goes the Weasel" on "Politely," and "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" sounds lazy -- but there's enough solid material to make Sunny Side Up a worthwhile listen for fans of Donaldson and early-'60s hard bop. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 27, 1967 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

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Lou Donaldson does attempt to loosen up a bit with Mr. Shing-A-Ling, but the whole affair is a bit stilted and misconceived. Not quite the full-fledged electric funk workout that was becoming commonplace for old-guard soul-jazz musicians in the late '60s, but not quite the bop-inflected soul-jazz of the early '60s. either, Mr. Shing-A-Ling falls into a netherworld that won't connect either with jazz purists or fans of grooving jazz-funk. When the group does try to get funky on the record, the results just sound lazy -- there's no spark to the rhythms, or to Donaldson's melody lines, especially on the embarrassing cover of the pop hit "Ode to Billie Joe." When the quintet settles into a midtempo vamp, Donaldson, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, and organist Lonnie Smith do spin out some good solos, but the lack of energy and enthusiasm the group has for the material makes Mr. Shing-A-Ling a bit of a tiring listen. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2012 | Blue Note Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2000 | Blue Note Records

As he delved deeper into commercial soul-jazz and jazz-funk, Lou Donaldson became better at it. While lacking the bite of his hard bop improvisations or the hard-swinging funk of Alligator Bogaloo, Midnight Creeper succeeds where its predecessor, Mr. Shing-A-Ling failed: it offers a thoroughly enjoyable set of grooving, funky soul-jazz. The five songs -- including two originals by Donaldson and one each by Lonnie Smith (who also plays organ on the record), Teddy Vann, and Harold Ousley -- aren't particularly distinguished, but the vibe is important, not the material. And the band -- Donaldson, Smith, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, guitarist George Benson, and drummer Leo Morris -- strikes the right note, turning in a fluid, friendly collection of bluesy funk vamps. Donaldson could frequently sound stilted on his commercial soul-jazz dates, but that's not the case with Midnight Creeper. He rarely was quite as loose on his late-'60s/early-'70s records as he is here, and that's what makes Midnight Creeper a keeper. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1957 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1995 | Blue Note Records

Although purists might not find it as much to their taste as Midnight Creeper, Everything I Play Is Funky is easily one of the best examples of Lou Donaldson's commercially accessible period of the late '60s and early '70s. Donaldson's forays into funk and R&B-driven soul-jazz could sometimes sound stiff, but the grooves here -- which feature many of the same players -- are consistently limber and unforced. And, typical of the style, the grooves (not adventurous improvisation) are what make the album tick. For once, Donaldson's attempt at an R&B cover -- in this case, the Lee Dorsey-sung, Allen Toussaint-penned "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On)" -- is pulled off well enough to make for an entirely convincing statement of purpose. That number kicks off an entertaining program also highlighted by three Donaldson originals -- the cooking funk number "Donkey Walk," which seems to inspire the fieriest solos on the record, the cheery calypso "West Indian Daddy," and the hard bop-flavored "Minor Bash." There's also a version of "Over the Rainbow" done in Donaldson's caressing, melodic ballad style, and the simple funk vamp "Hamp's Hump." It's a nicely varied assortment, all anchored by the percolating rhythm section of guitarist Melvin Sparks, bassist Jimmy Lewis, and drummer Idris Muhammad (Charles Earland and Dr. Lonnie Smith switch off on organ, and Blue Mitchell and Eddie Williams do the same on trumpet). This is the sort of record that modern-day Donaldson disciples like the Sugarman Three cherish, and one of his few truly consistent efforts in this style. Recommended wholeheartedly to funk and rare-groove fans. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1967 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2007 | Blue Note Records

Gravy Train is a fine, if not quite exceptional record from Lou Donaldson's initial soul-jazz phase of the early '60s. Actually, given the title and the period in which it was recorded, the album isn't quite as greasy and funky overall as one might expect; most of the repertoire is devoted to pop ballads and mid-tempo standards, the latter of which tends to bring out more of the bop elements in Donaldson's playing. That's not true for the entire album, though; the title cut is a laid-back, conga-tinged, bluesy groover in the classic Donaldson mold, even if it's a bit workmanlike. Donaldson's longtime pianist, Herman Foster, is allotted quite a bit of solo space here, and he concentrates more on thick, rippling chords than single-note lines. For his part, Donaldson's playing is pleasant, and the rest of the supporting group maintains a steady groove throughout. All of Donaldson's sessions from this period (Here 'Tis, The Natural Soul, Good Gracious) have enough worthwhile moments for devoted fans, and that's true of Gravy Train as well, though casual fans probably won't find it necessary enough to track down. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Blue Note Records

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 /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 1, 1959 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

Lou Donaldson and the Three Sounds both had a tendency to slip into low-key grooves, which is what makes the hard-driving bop of the opener "Three Little Words" a little startling. Donaldson is at a fiery peak, spinning out Bird-influenced licks that nevertheless illustrate that he's developed a more rounded, individual style of his own. The Three Sounds are equally as impressive, working bop rhythms with a dexterity that their first albums only hinted at. That high standard is maintained throughout the album, one of the finest in either of their catalogs. Albums like this and Blues Walk established Donaldson's reputation as a first-rate alto saxophonist, since he flaunts a full, robust tone, a fondness for melody, and nimble solos over the course of the record. LD + 3 is pretty much straight bop and hard bop, with little of the soul-jazz the two artists would later explore, but this collection of swinging standards, bop staples, and a pair of Donaldson originals ranks as one of Lou's finest straight bop sessions. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 27, 1957 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

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Wailing With Lou is an appropriate title for this enjoyable set of straight-ahead bop. Whether he's riding the propulsive rhythms of "Caravan" or settling down into a ballad, Donaldson takes the center stage with his surprisingly full alto tone. He still displays a clear Charlie Parker influence, but he is beginning to break free and develop his own style. In particular, he relies on bluesy runs more than Bird, which give his music a soulful edge. But what makes Wailing With Lou so enjoyable is the hot interplay between Donaldson, trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Herman Foster, bassist Peck Morrison and drummer Art Taylor. All five musicians give enthusiastic, infectious performances. There's nothing out of the ordinary here -- just hard-driving bop and sensitive ballads, which are sure to please fans of the style. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1952 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

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New Faces New Sounds is a 1953 date featuring saxophonist Lou Donaldson and trumpeter Clifford Brown leading a quartet. The tracks were also issued on 1956's Memorial Album after Brown's death. Backing them here are pianist Elmo Hope, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. This is superb, highly influential hard bop jazz. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1958 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

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In many ways, Blues Walk marked the culmination of Lou Donaldson's prime period as a hard-driving, straight-ahead bop saxophonist. Until that point, he had been turning out intense, furious bop workouts -- afterward, as its successor Light Foot shows, he began to slow down a bit. With Light Foot, Donaldson still was pretty firmly grounded in bop, but the tempos began to slow down, and his blues influence came to the forefront; furthermore, the bop tracks are hard bop, not straight bop, which tended to dominate his previous recordings. That diversity makes Light Foot an interesting listen, but the record suffers from slightly uneven material and performances. His quintet -- featuring pianist Herman Foster, bassist Peck Morrison, drummer Jimmy Wormsworth, and conga player Ray Barretto -- is usually up to the task at hand, but they tend to play conventionally. And, ultimately, that's what Light Foot is -- an entertaining but conventional release from an alto saxophonist capable of greatness. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2008 | EMI

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Here 'Tis is in the front rank of Lou Donaldson records, an exceptionally funky soul-jazz session that finds the saxophonist swinging harder than usual. As he moves from hard bop to soul-jazz, Donaldson reveals a bluesy streak to his playing while keeping the vigorous attack that defined his best bop. Donaldson's playing is among his finest in the soul-jazz vein, but what makes Here 'Tis such an enjoyable session is his interaction with his supporting trio of guitarist Grant Green, organist Baby Face Willette, and drummer Dave Bailey. As support, all three know how to keep a groove gritty and flexible, following Lou's lead and working a swinging beat that keeps flowing, never growing static. Green and Willette also have their time in the spotlight, and both musicians are frequently stunning. Green's single-note leads are clean and inventive; Willette is rhythmic and forceful, but also capable of soulful, mellow leads on the slow blues. Their talent, combined with Donaldson at a peak, results in a terrific record. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1974 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

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An examination of the famous Blue Note catalog reveals that, on the average, the style of music featured on Lou Donaldson's Sweet Lou is just as typical to the label as the recordings for which it is justifiably renowned. Few would remember the label at all if every Blue Note title was candy of the Sweet Lou sort, these sorts of productions and arrangements bringing to mind a cookie-cutter production line. Still, the passing of time has been in some ways been kind to these efforts, blurring the original impression given of careers headed downhill. Donaldson's tone on alto saxophone, regardless of setting, sounds like Charlie Parker after he has spent the night stuffed into one of those jars of pickled eggs on the menu in particularly hardcore bars. He stuffs banal compositions on this program such as "If You Can't Handle It, Give It to Me" with sublime Kansas City jazz blues licks as if festooning a National Guard unit with candy bar wrappers. The 1974 setting, following standard operating procedure for the period, is a nougat of trumpet and trombone charts plus a funky rhythm section infiltrated by trendy clavinet and synthesizer sounds. During two sessions a week apart, overlapping waves of session musicians nudged into each other's breathing room, ringers such as ex-bandleader Buddy Lucas blasting harmonica licks into the ears of A-team guitarists David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken. Bernard "Pretty" Purdie played drums on some of this, leaving behind shards of ingenuity that in some cases represent the main reason subsequent generations of listeners returned to this material, its initial impact and subsequent shelf life roughly equal to that of a baggage clam stub. Coming back from a "Hip Trip," however, a traveler may want to save such an item to trigger fond memories, in this case of nicely executed cover of a tune by Don Patterson, ace jazz organist. Things fall into place nicely on the closing "Peepin' Herman's Mambo," any variation on the Afro-Cuban jazz gestalt being as familiar to the Blue Note hellions as rice at a wedding. Furthermore, it swings. Starting over again, "You're Welcome, Stop on By" is a cover version of a funk hit associated with Bobby Womack, the presence of a female vocal team as alluring as signs announcing a chemical spill ahead. A commercial influence of a more pleasing nature is the continual copping from Stevie Wonder. © Eugene Chadbourne /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1969 | Blue Note Records

The title of Say It Loud! is taken from James Brown's anthem "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," the R&B/funk classic that Lou Donaldson covers on this album. Instead of providing a thematic and musical touchstone for the rest of the record, the song is an attempt to prove that Donaldson is still on top of musical trends, but the lazy groove he and his band -- trumpeter Blue Mitchell, guitarist Jimmy Ponder, organist Charles Earland, drummer Leo Morris -- work up shows they're not quite comfortable with this contemporary funk. They sound much more at ease with standards like "Summertime" and "Caravan," which give them a chance to stretch out, even if they are arranged like commercially oriented soul-jazz. Nevertheless, their simple presence on the album puts the stiffness of Donaldson's groove-oriented soul-jazz in sharper relief. Midnight Creeper was a successful soul-jazz record because the group managed to hit the right tone and groove, but here his group sounds awkward and uneasy. There are a few good moments scattered throughout the album, particularly by Mitchell, but overall, Say It Loud! is one of the weakest records in Donaldson's catalog. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo