Hank Crawford hails from Memphis and Jimmy McGriff was born in Philadelphia, but when these two musicians get together to make music, the resulting soulful groove transcends state lines, regional differences, musical styles and just about any other barrier you can name. Crawford's alto-sax playing which was an integral part of the distinctive and highly influential sound created by the Ray Charles band in the late 1950s and early '60s has become one of the most imitated styles in soul/jazz. Just ask David Sanborn about his influences, and you'll find Crawford's name at the top of the list. McGriff's first national hit was an instrumental cover of the Ray Charles classic "I've Got a Woman," and it proved a perfect showcase for his Hammond B-3 organ approach that blended bop finesse with an earthy R&B groove.
Given the fact that both Crawford and McGriff honed their musical chops on bop and blues, it was probably inevitable that these two master musicians would end up playing and recording together. But what's most interesting is that after first hooking up to record the classic Milestone album Soul Survivors in 1986, Crawford and McGriff have kept up the relationship. Over the past 13 years, they've turned out seven collaborative recordings, including their most recent effort on Milestone, Crunch Time. Like all previous Crawford/McGriff ventures, their latest is as comfortable and appealing as your favorite old shirt (probably the one with a few memorable barbecue stains on the front). They throw in a few groove-laden takes on soul classics like Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" and Chuck Willis' "Don't Deceive Me," then turn up the bebop heat with cookers like Horace Silver's "The Preacher" and Clifford Brown's "Sandu." It's all great on the recording, but it's better live. And there's probably no more appropriate venue for the deep soul groove explorations of the Crawford/McGriff Quartet than Spruill's Music Room, 2625 Stoddard at Jefferson.