King Curtis ‘Soul Twistin’ with the King!’ CD (Jasmine) 4/5

Better know for his sideman duties with Aretha Franklin, rhythm and blues saxophonist King Curtis (aka Curtis Ousley), recorded some memorable sides as a leader and, while, ‘Memphis Soul Stew’, will remain his most impressive and lasting legacy, this new re-issue pulls together some fascinating music that draws heavily on the ‘twist’ dance craze that spread like wildfire across the United States around 1960 and beyond.

The complete, ‘Soul Twist’ album makes up for the first part of the CD and includes Curtis’ own take on soul-jazz titan Cannonball Adderley’s, ‘Sack o’ woe’ and here tenor and guitar combine to provide a lighter version that has a prominent piano vamp. Ray Charles scored a major hit with, ‘What I’d say’, and King Curtis offers up a hi-hat cymbal rendition with a meaty tenor solo in ‘Part 2’. The album also includes a self-penned hit 45 that went to number one in the R & B chart in 1962, ‘Soul Twist’.

In fact the whole ‘twist’ music and dance phenomenon came about somewhat by accident since the song was originally a B-side to a Hank Ballard 45 that nobody paid any attention to until Chubby Checker heard it, re-recorded it as an A-side and scored a major hit in the process. King Curtis certainly milked the dance craze for all it’s worth and the blues-driven number, ‘Twistin’ with the King’, features some tasty guitar licks.

A second selection of an album Curtis recorded with girl group The Shirelles adds variety to proceedings (and with thirty tracks in total, you do need some vocals to complement the numerous instrumentals). The best of these songs to this writer’s ears is, ‘I still want you’.

The final part of the CD is made up of King Curtis providing instrumental support to an album ostensibly under the leadership of dance teacher Albert Murray and once again devoted to the twist dance craze. A latin-soul gem in, ‘Midnight blue’, is not in fact the more famous Kenny Burrell composition, but rather a Curtis original. Of interest also is a take on, ‘Alright, you win’, which Nancy Wilson would transform into a swinging jazz number.

It should be stated from the outset that the music contained within emphasizes the fun nature of King Curtis’ music and pre-dates his recordings for Atco. The saxophonist would die in tragic circumstances in 1971, aged just thirty-seven.

Tim Stenhouse