The Mosaic Select treatment has deservedly been given to Big John Patton. There are those who argue that Patton's entire catalog should have been the subject of a Mosaic box set proper. There was easily enough material for five, if not six, CDs. There are five albums collected here. His first three, Along Came John, The Way I Feel, and Oh Baby!, were recorded in 1963, 1964, and 1965, respectively. The last two on this set are That Certain Feeling and Understanding, from 1968. Missing are Blue John, his proper second album from 1963 and unreleased until 1986, Let 'Em Roll, and Got a Good Thing Goin', released in 1965 and 1966, and his post-1968 work, Accent on the Blues, Memphis to New York Spirit (unreleased until 1996), and Boogaloo. Quibbling aside, of the material included here, only Along Came John is currently available domestically, making this set a necessary purchase for Patton fans who have not shelled out the big bucks for Japanese pressings. Virtually every one of these outings is important, the first because it showcased Patton outside of his stead in Lou Donaldson's great early-'60s combo, accompanied by tenors Fred Jackson and Harold Vick with Grant Green and Ben Dixon. The band changed only slightly for The Way I Feel, when Vick was replaced by trumpeter Richard Williams. On Oh Baby!, Jackson was replaced by Vick and Williams by Blue Mitchell. These three dates are all very much of a piece. The band stays deep in the funky blues groove while nodding to the waning days of hard bop. And while the horns are generally regarded as strictly meat and potatoes on these sides, a close listen will correct that erroneous perception.
In the late '60s, Patton's sound became more lean, yet also more expansive and spacious. With Junior Cook on saxophone, Clifford Jarvis on drums, and Jimmy Ponder on guitar, Patton embarked on That Certain Feeling, one of his most illustrious dates as a leader. Ponder's fluid and edgy runs nicely complemented Patton's now arpeggio-heavy manner of playing. Cook's smoky tone that came out of both Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins added depth, dimension, and ambience to the band's sound. On the final session here, Understanding, the sound cut even closer to the bone: Harold Alexander was enlisted on tenor and flute, with drummer Hugh Walker the only other musician involved. The trio played all around the groove jazz sound, while turning it inside out in Alexander's out-ish honking solos. Patton's organ is way up in the mix, shape-shifting time signatures inside a 2/4 meter. The pace is aggressive, deep, and at times dissonant, making an excellent case for reappraisal here, as it dates better than anything else on this set. All in all, this is a deep, sometimes mystifying collection featuring Patton as a composer, bandleader, and arranger. His sense of rhythmic dynamics is among the most sophisticated in the history of the jazz B-3. There isn't a weak second on any of this material and it should be snapped up before Mosaic's copies go -- they do not reissue. Blue Note should take the cue, do the entire catalog in 24-bit audio, and hustle it out there. ~ Thom Jurek