Bernard Purdie and his solo masterpiece Soul Is… Pretty Purdie
In early March and late June of 1972, Bernard Purdie took some time to record his own album, Soul Is…, although certainly not his first. Purdie had been a session drummer for a who’s who of recording artists, so it’s only right that he occasionally took the spotlight himself. During this time, he had become the musical director of the Flying Dutchman label, which was home to artists like Gil Scott-Heron and Gato Barbieri.
On Soul Is…, we hear an album of jazzy soul featuring mostly covers. Borrowing a track from one of his most famous collaborators, Aretha Franklin, the breezy “Day Dreaming” with a fantastic lead tenor sax throughout by Charlie Brown. He also opted to pay tribute to Aretha with the aptly titled “Song for Aretha,” written by Purdie along with Horace Ott (who also arranged and conducted on the album), Richard Tee, and Flying Dutchman label founder Bob Thiele. What’s noticeable about the track, which was also a single from the album, is that Purdie takes on lead vocals. While it gets a bit syrupy in spots, the track is filled with sublime moments around 2:30, mountain-moving moments around 3:50, and tension-releasing moments around 4:09.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Purdie album without some great drumming (and breaks!). That talent shows up all over “Heavy Soul Slinger” with some great conga work by Norman Pride.
Perhaps the most beautiful cover on the album is the Gaye/Withers medley of “What’s Going On/Ain’t No Sunshine,” both of which have seen their share of covers throughout the years. This one may top them all. Purdie starts the track off with a nice little intro fill. It never hurts to have Cornell Dupree on your session, and Jerry Jemmott’s bass is on point. Between Richard Tee’s organ and the multiple saxophone players on the track (all superb) taking center stage, it’s a master class in musical excellence.
As Dean Rudland’s notes in this latest reissue by Ace/BGP, Pretty Purdie’s session work grew more in demand. Time for his own albums was fading, but his talents were being spread around the musical spectrum. Soul Is… offered what was one of the last gasps of his own output, and it’s a beautiful work of art.
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