VARIOUS: J&S Harlem Soul (Label: Kent)

VARIOUS: J&S Harlem Soul

‘J&S Harlem Soul’ is Ace/Kent’s latest look at the work of feisty New York music entrepreneur Zelma Saunders. Known to her contemporaries as Zell, she ran a whole raft of labels – J&S, Scatt, Dice, Sprout and Omega amongst them – and she chiefly recorded New York artists drawn from the streets of Harlem and the Bronx. This generous 24 tracker offers a selection of those recordings, but listen to almost any of them and you’d be forgiven for guessing that their provenance was some many miles south of the Big Apple. Where most 50s and 60s New York soul is slick, smooth and lush (“uptown”, if you would), Zell Saunders’ music is much more down home – hard-edged, tough and basic … and maybe that explains why she achieved very little success. Without a big budget she couldn’t buy radio time while the slick New York jocks wouldn’t play the tunes by choice simply because they didn’t fit their perceived metropolitan, sophisticated format. Equally the lack of budget meant that Zell found it hard to promote her sounds in the places where they might have met with a more sympathetic hearing. Still, lack of success doesn’t equate with a lack of quality and much of what’s on offer here is honest, genuine soul music and what might be lacking in sophistication is made up for in commitment. Of note are ‘Life Of Love’ from the Freeman Brothers (a harmonic group sound), ‘Money, And All Your Love’ from Freda Allyne (a rough, funk item), ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ by Neice Dezel (a real Aretha feel to this one) and ‘You Haven’t Been Like You Should’ from the Gillettes (clearly influenced by the Impressions). Though none of these cuts were ever hits and none of the artists went on to become stars, the soul quotient of their music is undiminished and for collectors of 60s soul this collection is a must.
(BB) 3/5