He may not enjoy the name recognition of Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, or Jimmy McGriff, but Reuben Wilson has enjoyed the renaissance of the Hammond B-3 organ right alongside those stars–in fact, he’s become something of an underground star himself. Born in Oklahoma, he started playing professionally in Los Angeles, and in the mid-60s went to New York, where he played with a whole range of folks from Sam Rivers to Grant Green, in addition to leading a trio of his own. At the end of that decade he recorded a string of dates for Blue Note, including On Broadway, Love Bug, and the recently reissued Blue Mode, which is as durable a funky jazz record as has ever been made with an electric organ. The recipe for these releases was simple: mix instrumental versions of soul hits (“Knock on Wood,” “Ain’t That Peculiar”) with neck-breakin’ funk originals and a healthy dose of bluesy soloing. Wilson’s got some of the gospel sanctity of his peers, but he knows when to stop pouring the syrup, keeping his sound tart and his timing deadly. Along with his later records for the Groove Merchant label, Wilson’s back catalog is a veritable natural resource for hip-hoppers and acid-jazz freaks; recently the 63-year-old himself has worked with soul farmers US3 and Guru’s Jazzmatazz. Wilson’s excellent new Organ Donor (Jazzateria) follows his old formula: with a sympathetic support team, he drives Marvin Gaye’s blaxploitation classic “Trouble Man” as easily as he takes off in his own Blue Note-era “Hot Rod.” The group he presents here includes Chicago soul-jazz guitar legend George Freeman. Saturday, 10 PM, Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln; 312-409-0099 or 773-549-5549. Wilson also plays for free Saturday at 1 PM, Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. JOHN CORBETT
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.