Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - 68

COLUMN Fretprints
STYLE
Acid jazz, soul jazz, funk
jazz, proto-fusion, jazz-rock,
barbecue jazz... call it what
you will, Melvin managed
it magnificently. He once
labeled his approach "jazz
played over a funk beat" and
while this modest description
certainly defined his grooveoriented vision, there's much
more to his musical conception. His style grew out of the
early R&B influences and incorporated modal jazz, blues,
and hard-bop idioms freely
mixed at a crucial juncture
when diverse tangents were in
flux and presaged a new direction. Those connections are
always present in his music.
He took the soul-jazz medium
to its next level in the '60s
beyond the experiments of
the previous decade. Groove
tunes dominated his output in
the '70s, yet he concurrently
flirted with straight-ahead
jazz and pop. He epitomized
diversity and purveyed a
range of musicianship that
complemented blues, soul,
pop, dance, and jazz formats.
Since his earliest days as a
boogaloo specialist, Sparks
excelled in vamps - that's a
given. However, he also played
standard changes and bebop
expertly with well-conceived
improvisations revealing fluency with the jazz language.
His playing contained references to George Benson's
phrasing and complex hornAcid jazz at its finest. In "My Kia's Dance" (from
noteworthy is the abundant chromaticism throughinspired melodies with fleet
Groove On Up) Sparks demonstrates his command
out, especially to facilitate position shifts. He uses
single notes, the funk feel
of the style, powers of improvisation, and thematic
bebop licks in measures 3, 4, and 8 and a Charlie
and swing of Grant Green,
elaborations in the vamp format. Over a static C7
"Bird" Parker ending motif in 9. There are insidethe octave passages of Wes
chord, he delivers a freewheeling mix of modal, hard- outside melodies in 6, where he implies F minor as
Montgomery (as on "Charle
bop, and modern jazz lines over a funk-rock beat.
an alternate sound. Zooming out, he maintains a
Brown"), and the bluesiness of
He uses a variety of colors based on G minor over
solid sense of the rhythmic pocket throughout and a
Kenny Burrell and B.B. King.
C dominant, manipulating the Dorian mode and Mecoherent organic flow despite the musical complexConsider the straight-ahead
lodic Minor scale to good effect. Note the frequent
ity. Moments like this endeared Sparks with a new
uptempo jazz in "Star in the
toggling between F and F# in his melodies. Also
generation of acid-jazz and jam-band devotees.
Crescent" (Texas Twister) and
particularly the work on Sparkling, wherein all tracks boasted unimpeachable ahead take of "I Am Your Song," the energetic was fond of inserting quotes (a jazz concession)
jazz credentials. Check out the ubiquitous improvisations in the swinging standard "Speak into his improvisations; two recurring favorites
virtuosic single-note lines, the advanced chord Low" and the up-tempo modal cooker "Has- being "Flintstones" and "Hot House" in funk
work and even unexpected digressions to san." "I Want to Talk About You" is a jazz ballad solos. Of particular interest is his quote-laden
flamenco guitar in "Misty," the relaxed straight- with soulful blues-inflected double-timing. He solo amidst the requisite Benson references in

VINTAGE GUITAR

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June 2018


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - IFC
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Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - Contents
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