Jazz

The Spark Has Gone Out

13 APR 11 CHRIS SLAWECKI

Melvin Sparks, whose soulful and taut guitar threaded through three decades of soul-jazz sounds that were laid down by organists Jack McDuff and Charles Earland, tenor saxman Houston Person and others, passed away from diabetic complications on March 15, 2011.

In the Concord catalog, you'll find his first two releases as a leader, including his crackling signature tune "Spark Plug," compiled into Legends Of Acid Jazz (Prestige, 1996). Sparks smears long lines up and down The Coasters' "Charlie Brown" to blend vocal pop, soul, R&B, and early rock together with jazz and blues into thoroughly satisfying technicolor funk. Likewise, his finger-snapping saunter through War's "Spill the Wine" frappes multiple genres into a funk smoothie. "The Stinker" spotlights Sparks' cool but passionate interplay with funky organist Leon Spencer, a dynamic these two further explored on Spencer's own Legends Of Acid Jazz (Prestige, '97) collection.

Sparks' stinging, swinging guitar illuminates other corners of Concord's catalog, including Earland's 1969 classic Black Talk! (now an RVG Remaster), Sonny Phillips' and Charles Kynard's Legends Of Acid Jazz compilations, and Rip-A-Dip, Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers' '95 comeback album for Milestone.

Melvin Sparks began his career in the early 1960s as guitarist for The Upsetters, the incendiary R&B show band that famously backed Little Richard. He may not have been the most prolific or even the best-known guitar player to swim in the soul-jazz school, but he will be sorely missed in the land of groove.