Saturday, December 5, 2015

Roosevelt 'Baby Face' Willette

Behind the 8-Ball was Baby Face Willette's second album for Argo, his second of 1964, and — unfortunately — the last one he would record as a leader, for reasons that aren't well-documented. Compared to his past releases, Behind the 8-Ball is short on original compositions (only two of eight tracks), but the emphasis here is more on Willette's deep roots in gospel and R&B, two circuits he worked extensively during his pre-Blute Note dues-paying days. This perhaps accounts for the brevity of the album — only two cuts top the five-minute mark — but it also provides a chance to hear Willette at his most soulful, playing the music he grew up with. Willette is again joined by guitarist Ben White, plus new drummer Jerold Donavon, who are usually solid if nothing special; Willette's Hammond B-3 is the star. On the R&B side, Willette's short, self-penned title track is strongly reminiscent of the very early rock & roll era, and his cover of Big Joe Turner's "Roll 'Em Pete" features some nifty trade-offs with White. From the gospel side of the equation, altoist Gene Barge makes his only appearance on the traditional standard "Amen"; there's also the R&B-ish waltz "Sinnin' Sam" and an extended take on "Just a Closer Walk," which had recently been recorded in similar fashion by Willette's former Blue Note compatriot Grant Green. Elsewhere, Willette throws a curveball with his lengthy original "Song of the Universe" ; a confused White seems to have difficulty keeping up with the hyperspeed waltz time, but Willette tosses out lightning-quick leads and riffs with a light, nimble touch. Again, it's not quite as good as his Blue Notes (with their stellar supporting casts), but for a look at Willette's roots, Behind the 8-Ball is a solid acquisition, and worth tracking down for devotees as a Japanese CD reissue.
Steve Huey

Source :

Baby Face Willette
Behind the 8-Ball
Mo' Rock


Behind the 8-Ball

1 Behind the 8 Ball (Willette, Willette)  2:22
2 Song of the Universe (Willette, Willette)  7:08
3 Amen (Traditional)  2:34
4 Tacos Joe (White)  3:14
5 Roll 'Em Pete (Johnson, Turner)  3:30
6 Just a Closer Walk With Thee (Traditional)  7:00
7 St. James Infirmary (Primrose, Traditional)  2:24
8 Sinnin' Sam (Hooper)  4:25

After recording a handful of sessions for Blue Note in the early '60s (including two albums as a leader), organist Baby Face Willette abruptly left the label and soon resurfaced on Argo. Mo-Roc (titled Mo' Rock on the front cover only) is the first of Willette's two 1964 albums for Argo, and it's further proof that if Willette hadn't been so underexposed, he certainly wouldn't be quite so underrated. Mo-Roc is recorded in a trio format with guitarist Ben White and drummer Eugene Bass, who may not be up to the caliber of Blue Note players like Grant Green and Ben Dixon, but are competent and swinging nonetheless. Willette shines brightest on the hard-driving up-tempo cuts, swinging like a madman and displaying more melodic imagination on his instrument than straight blues players. Highlights in this vein include the charging title cut — dedicated to Chicago's Moroccan Village neighborhood, where Willette played frequently — and "Zip Five," where the busy melody lines produce some explosive displays of chops from both Willette and White. Not all of the compositions make much of an impression — some are basically just swinging, mid-tempo grooves — but it's hard to miss the mysterious, atmospheric "Unseen and Unknown," Willette's tribute to an African witch doctor, which is punctuated by comically manic screams and dissonant, horror-film chords. Overall, Mo' Rock isn't quite up to the level of Willette's Blue Note sessions, but it's still a very respectable outing, and given the unfortunate skimpiness of his discography, his fans should find it rewarding enough to seek out the Japanese CD reissue.
Steve Huey

Source :

Mo' Rock

1 Mo-Roc (Willette)  4:51
2 Bantu Penda (Willette)  5:19
3 Dad's Theme (Willette)  5:30
4 But Not for Me (Gershwin, Gershwin)  4:12
5 Misty (Burke, Garner)  3:58
6 Unseen and Unknown (Willette)  4:19
7 Zip Five (Willette)  5:19
8 Sight in Darkness (Willette)  5:09


[# 1-8] 
Roosevelt "Baby Face" Willette - org
Ben White - g
Jerold Donavon - dr
Gene Barge - as [# 3 only]
Recorded in Chicago, Illinois ; November 30, 1964
[# 9-16]
Roosevelt "Baby Face" Willette - org
Ben White - g
Eugene Bass - dr
Recorded in Chicago, Illinois ; March 27 & April 2, 1964


Big Papi said...

Bless you, my friend. I've long had both "Stop & Listen" & "Face To Face", but this is a long sought after classic. A million thanks.

the jazzman said...

Thanks. I've always liked Willette.

Arkiver said...

What a neat find! Thanks for sharing this scarce album!!

BigD said...

Yo, Baby Face rocks hard. It took me ages to find these Argo LPs. Thanks for making it available for others to listen to.

This stuff is very different from the Blue Note sound and Baby Face shines through. The Argo LPs are a mix of great songs and songs that aren't so hot, but that is what you get when you take chances. The tracks are way original and sound unique. The Blue Notes are more consistent but sound formulaic compared to these records. Argo must have given Face freedom to do what he wanted. There are some great tracks here. Don't miss these Argos. Thanks Mel.

Philo said...

What a wonderful treat!

I have both of Willette's Blue Note albums. Never thought I'd see these rare Argo gems.

This is amazing!

Pippo said...

Great interesting stuff, thank you Melanchthon !

Pippo said...

Holy s@#t this stuff is smokin', thanks a zillion !

archer said...

bigd pretty much said what i was going to say.

big gratitude as always, melanchthon

jose arboleda said...

Muchas Gracias.

Melanchthon said...

deGallo said...

Thank you.

rm said...

merci beaucoup

Tom Billisson said...

Thanks Mel.

Pee said...

Fantastic shares, thanks Mel!

Fred Archtop said...

Yet another discovery for me. This is thanks to you mel. Best regards and keep us posted.

Jazzsoulman said...

Thank You