Album Review: Shirley Scott – Queen Talk

One of the fascinating and often defining characteristics of jazz is the manner in which artists draw upon the work of others, bending it to their own purposes. The recasting of standards – often from well outside the jazz idiom – into something new and exciting is one of the practices that makes the form so exciting.

“Queen of the organ,” Shirley Scott was, among other things, a skilled practitioner of this approach. The versatile and expressive organist built her sound on a foundation of gospel, blues and bebop jazz, creating an impressively deep catalog of releases. As a band leader, Scott released more than 50 albums between 1958 and 1992 (she passed away in 2002 at the comparatively young age of 67).

The bulk of Scott’s recorded output – mostly for esteemed jazz labels like Impulse and Prestige – came out between 1960 and ‘66; by the 1970s her release schedule had slowed considerably. But as Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank vividly demonstrates, when she appeared onstage in Baltimore in August 1972, her playing had lost none of its fire.

Joined by George Coleman on (often wild and unbridled) tenor sax and drummer Bobby Durham, Scott put her Hammond B3 through its paces. This newly discovered soundboard recording from the intrepid Cory Weeds and Zev Feldman (released on their Reel to Real imprint) captures the trio digging into ten numbers, spread here across two compact discs.

Coltrane’s “Impressions” opens the set it exuberant style. But then the group shifts gears, taking the classic “Never Can Say Goodbye” and making it their own. They do the same with Van Heusen’s “Like Someone in Love” and Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Perhaps Scott and her sidemen were inspired by Isaac Hayes, who memorably transformed those two songs into what felt like originals, though there’s little if any sonic similarity between what Scott and company do with the songs and the manner in which Isaac treated them.

The trio displays lots of shade and light; at times their approach is almost meditative; other times it’s closer to transcendent, embarking on flights of musical fancy. Thrilling stuff, to be sure. Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” come in for similar reinvention. Vocalist Ernie Andrews joins the group for a reading of Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk,” and the set ends with an extended blues.

The liner notes and packaging continue on in the unbroken top-notch tradition we’ve come to expect from Feldman and Weeds. It all adds up to an enthusiastically recommended set.