Baby Face Willette ‘Stop and Listen’ (Blue Note RVG) 4/5

This long sought after album is finally re-issued on CD and was formerly one of the hardest to find vinyl items among the vast Blue Note catalogue with one of the earliest sessions of guitarist Grant Green from 1961. In fact the trio recorded together on Green’s debut, ‘Grant’s First Stand’ while Willette seldom recorded for the label with only two albums as a leader and sideman duties for Lou Donaldson on ‘Here ‘Tis’. Thereafter Willette recorded two more albums for Chicago label Argo both in 1964 before he died in 1971.

Influenced largely by church organists in Chicago and more restrained in approach than Jimmy Smith, Willette impresses here on the self composed track ‘Jumpin’ Jupiter’ which would have made ideal material for the jukeboxes and dancefloors of the early 1960s and the keyobardist takes the initiative from the beginning. The title track is a catchy r’n’b number not dissimilar in flavour to ‘Fever’ and there are nices Latin touches from Ben Dixon on drums. A swinging version of ‘Willow weep for me’ is a pretext for Green to stretch out with those bluesy guitar licks that were his trademark and Willette plays an extended solo. It is the fullness of the trio sound devoid of any horns and yet still occupying the space with aplomb that stands out on the popular ‘Work Song’ where Green excels. Among the burgeoning roster of hammond organ players, Baby Face Willette was one of the least well known. However, it was certianly not due to any lack of talent as this album amply testifies.

Tim Stenhouse