by Steve Leggett
King Curtis and his bubbling, stutter-style tenor sax playing brought a touch of jazz and a whole ton of R&B to countless rock & roll tracks in the early '60s, and his funky edge is one of the reasons records by the Coasters, for instance, continue to sound good 40 years later. This brief collection, Memphis Soul Stew -- it struggles to reach past 25 minutes in length -- brings together a set of late-'60s tracks Curtis recorded while signed to Atlantic Records. This isn't quite the wild, hard-blowing and honking Curtis that most people will recall from his Enjoy sessions, but shows him tamed down a notch or two, although that's a relative assessment, since Curtis still packs a punch here. Two of these cuts were radio staples in 1967, the classic &Memphis Soul Stew& (which includes, in Curtis' own words, &a half pint of horn&) and an instrumental version of &Ode to Billy Joe.& Curtis often worked with arranger Arif Mardin during this period, and their collaboration is showcased here in the beautiful and easy groove of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's &Spanish Harlem.& The Enjoy sessions are still the place to start with King Curtis, but this short survey of his later Atlantic years will do in an absolute pinch.