Cornell Dupree, Saturday Night Fever / Shadow Dancing (2 on 1)

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Here's a great litmus test for jazz purists: Scorn this disc, and the notion of “fun” has totally fallen off your priority list. Slick and smooth guitarist Cornell Dupree started with saxophonist King Curtis in the early '60s, then became a session gun-for-hire on more than 2500 records. Here Dupree tries to cash in on the disco craze with a pair of releases that have been squeegeed together by Essential in surprisingly shrewd fashion — more than half of the interminable ten minutes of “Staying Alive” has been axed, while a wonderfully lush rendition of “How Deep Is Your Love?” is shorn of ten meaningless seconds.

You don’t hate fun, do you?

Depending on your age, this is kitsch or nostalgia of the highest order, as Dupree's clean, gilded, and oh-so-tastefully suave licks conjure him up to be one of those soulful, now-anachronistic cats rolling astride Shaft or hitting on Black Coffey back in the blaxploitation day. The guitar lines twirl funk, jazz and r&b into a chilled swizzle stick. Check out the way Dupree gooses the bobbing melody of “On and On,” and then starts fiddling around with stutter-strums and other riffs. Listen to the battened-down groove of Steely Dan's “Peg,” snazzy as a leisure suit. Or just settle in to the classic blues of “The Creeper,” the closest thing Dupree has to a signature song.

There are some fine sidemen to be found on these tracks, including saxophonist Hank Crawford and the great Jimmy Smith on electric piano. But understand that this is almost totally Dupree's show. Framed by decades of him bolstering every other star — from Lou Rawls and Joe Cocker to Mariah Carey — it was his bid for fame. And on that score, a noble yet still delightful failure.