-- J.C. Herz

N'ssi N'ssi
(Mango Records)

This Algerian rai and roller puts the more rock in Moroccan. You might not understand a word he says, but the groove is universal. Ain't never gonna do it without my fez on.

-- Bob Weinberg

Al Kooper

There simply is no substitute for a Hammond B-3 organ. Yet you hardly ever hear 'em any more (maybe it's because they weigh upwards of 500 pounds; portable they ain't). But still, when that sound hits your ear, it's magic time. You think Booker T. and the MGs. You think Zombies. You think Jimmy Smith. And now you'll think Al Kooper, who has released a soul-spanking collection of almost-nothing-but Hammond-driven instrumentals. And, man, this stuff has grooves tighter than Roseanne in corduroys and twice as nasty.

Yes, this is the same Al Kooper who founded Blood, Sweat and Tears; jammed with partner Mike Bloomfield and Steve Stills; and more ignominiously, coached Stephen King and Dave Barry's efforts to play in a rock band. After a twelve-year solo-recording hiatus, Kooper returns with what may be the best album of his career (and that's really saying something).

Many of the compositions contained on Rekooperation are a payback to those who influenced the keyboardist: a roadhouse rendition of Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk," a riffed-out-beyond-recognition romp through Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" (really a tribute to Chuck's pianoman, Johnnie Johnson), and King Curtis's "Soul Twist-ed." Kooper's originals are equally remarkable, including the first and best cut, "Downtime," which he penned along with guitarist Jimmy Vivino, whose burning efforts sear throughout. You can almost smell the funk rising off this track, which echoes the Booker T. recipe for steaming soul: gutpunch bass behind tightly coiled organ lines and bumblebee guitar. The spooky sound of the Hammond is also used to good effect on the haunting and lovely "When the Spell is Broken" by Richard Thompson and an original vamp called "Sneakin Round the Barnyard."

Lending to the soul shenanigans are the Uptown Horns, driving and enlivening more than half the tracks (along with Vivino's chicken scratchings, they put the Memphis into a groovin' "Cleanup Woman") and trumpetman Randy Brecker. But the most appreciated guest star is alto saxman Hank Crawford, who solos (or so lows, if you will) on the Basie-band ballad "After the Lights Go Down Low" and the Kooper comp "How 'My Ever Gonna Get Over You." The latter is the jukebox selection you want to punch up when they're putting the chairs on the tables and you have about seven sips of Seagram's left in the bottom of your glass: sublime after-hours melancholy.

If instrumental soul, R&B, and funk is your thang, don't hesitate, Rekooperate. This one's a winner.

-- Bob Weinberg

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