Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt

  • God Bless Jug and Sonny [Prestige, 2000] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

God Bless Jug and Sonny [Prestige, 2000]
The tenor battle in which two saxmen blow each other's brains out is a format often cited and seldom documented, and as someone who's sought examples for years, I feel lucky I threw on this live CD--released 2000, recorded 1973. Zoot Sims and Lockjaw Davis's roughly similar The Tenor Giants Featuring Oscar Peterson is hobbled by jazz decorum and a stiffer rhythm section; the justly legendary 1950 meeting of these two Billy Eckstine grads, "Blues Up and Down," is constipated by comparison. The Baltimore crowd brings out the brawler in both Albert's boy Gene, with his woogie-steeped r&b tendencies, and the famously facile Stitt, known for his eagerness to replicate Bird solos and cut crap in the studio for cash on the barrelhead. The combat is friendly and uncerebral--Stitt pushes Ammons's big gruff Hawkins chops toward modernism as Ammons drives Stitt to a raucous showboat bebop that keeps on churning as tracks approach the quarter-hour mark. Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, and the incomparable Billy Higgins are so fluid you hardly mind when the leaders sit out for a Walton feature, and the 2002 sequel is almost as good even though two Etta Jones vocals intrude. Called Left Bank Encores, it was cut the very same night. Must have been some show. A-