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The Lyman Woodard Organization: Saturday Night Special

Album Notes

Saturday Night Special is certainly a contemporary jazz cult classic album if there ever was one. Merging the heart and soul of Detroit jazz and rhythm & blues while also tossing in a little Latin music, keyboardist Lyman Woodard was at the forefront of defining an instrumental identity for the Motor City on this recording. With top-notch guitarist Ron English, saxophonist Norma Jean Bell, drummer Leonard King, and percussionists Lorenzo Brown and Bud Spangler, Woodard provided solid, head-nodding groove music punctuated by heady, at times spacy jazz improvisation that set the standard for any rival or modern-day jam band. Although he became an organist exclusively, Woodard added Mellotron and electric piano to his arsenal for this date. The muddy production values diminish the overall quality of the sound, but the music itself is undeniably unique, and set apart from the CTI recordings or the fusion music Miles Davis was producing in this mid-'70s time period. The two-part title track is an industrial mythic anthem signifying a steadily streaming automobile production line within a slow, slinky melody via Woodard's various keyboards, flute, and handclaps, a chicken scratch synthesizer insert by the leader, followed by a funky electric bass solo and a jam. "Belle Isle Daze" and "Cheeba" are also dual part pieces, the former a light samba cum boogaloo with Woodard's organ and synth gliding alongside the guitar of English, the latter a straight Latin groove with Woodard's burning B-3 and the percussionists working out in Afro-Cuban fashion. The most beautiful track is "Joy Road," a soul ballad with sighing, serene synth and the lilting alto sax of Bell. King wrote the song of self-determination "Creative Musicians" in a choppy beat as he sings "keep on rollin' right along," while "Allen Barnes," a tribute to Detroit's enduring saxophonist , is a mix of Milestones meeting Jimmy Smith. English, an unsung hero of post-Kenny Burrell guitardom, penned and leads out on the melodies of the commercial tune "On Your Mind" and the more complex "Help Me Get Away," a complex, churning, jazz-oriented piece in 5/4 time that reflects the bop aesthetic of the '50s that brought so many Detroit musicians into prominence. Immediately after Woodard's death in 2009, the Wax Poetics label reissued this recording on limited-edition vinyl, made the tracks and unreleased material available for downloading, and reissued Saturday Night Special on CD. It's a testament not only to the vibrancy of the Detroit scene and what Woodard offered as one of the forefathers of the burgeoning fusion movement, but more importantly, it signifies how local Detroit musicians prevailed against adversity to keep their traditions very much alive and well. ~ Michael G. Nastos


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