Between 1968 and 1970 Blue Note released four albums by Hammond Organ master, Dr Lonnie Smith (a fifth was recorded in 1970 but remained in the can until 1995). Dr Smith plays in a funky style and after 46 years he is now recording on Blue Note again.
The new album Evolution, produced by label supremo, Don Was, is well worthy of attention. The sound reproduction is excellent and the material covered shows that there is life and many a good tune is still to be had from the hulking Hammond
Play It Back is deeply funky. The first Hammond notes are snarls played for effect. This is a long track with plenty of time and space for improvisation. Dr Smith plays very well here- in a very controlled and disciplined way. Some may have heard him play this track before on a Blue Note release, on his superb Jam Live At Club Mozambique set (recorded 1970 in but not released until 1995). That particular version contained a duet between tenor and baritone saxes, whereas Robert Glasper’s piano is to the fore here. Come to think of it, I can’t think of many tracks that have both piano and Hammond Organ played by two separate keyboardists, so if you know of any please let us know through the comments box below. There’s some fine trumpet from Keyon Harold here too.
For the first time, it’s been difficult to find a video clip to add to this post. I suspect Blue Note are being very protective of their new signing. We will have to settle for a brief trio rendition of this track recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in early 2016. I hope you enjoy it while it is here.
To play, either touch or click on the arrow.
Afrodesia. Joe Lovano plays a special 6″ mezzo soprano here. More wonderful trumpet, this time from Maurice Brown and there’s also tenor sax from John Ellis. This was the title track of a post-Blue Note album from the Doctor, although I’ve yet to get hold of a copy.
For Heaven’s Sake is a ballad with a solo played by Joe Lovano on a handmade wooden tenor saxophone, which has to be worth listening closely to as I’ve never heard of such an instrument before.
Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser needs little introduction and is well rendered.
Talk About This once again features some impressive trumpet from Brown and is funky with some streetsound style vocals.
My Favorite Things is given a novel and dramatic introduction that is really worth hearing. Played badly this number can sound very contrived but Smith freshens it up almost to the point of transformation.
African Suite is a jaunty tune which takes us off to an imagined landscape of rolling savannahs. It is a flute led whimsy which works for me and is seemingly a piece by a musician who is willing to drop his sense of cool in the pursuit of a piece that is fun. If you could imagine a lost Miles Davis recording of Peter and the Wolf you would be stretching credibility well beyond its breaking point but that would be the territory we are in here.
As to the be-turbaned Doctor Smith, the bio’s don’t give too much away (you can read his Wikipedia entry here). I felt compelled to turn to interviews to try to get some insight into the man responsible for the music. Once again there were no great insights other than to hear from a musician who loves his music and comes across as a thoughtful and gentle individual. When pushed he says that he regrets not having photos of his performances having good times with a good sprinkling of other great performers, but he says that at least he has the memories and that they are the most important thing.
All in all, Evolution is a newish album that should be bought and listened to. I’m quietly confident that this won”t disappoint.
The band etc: Dr Lonnie Smith (Hammond Organ); Robert Glasper (Piano- track 1); Jonathan Blake (Drums- all tracks- sole drummer on 4 & 6); Joe Dyson (Drums- tracks 1-3, 5 & 7); John Ellis (Tenor Saxophone, Flute (7) & Bass Clarinet (3)); Jonathan Kreisberg (Guitar); Maurice Brown (Trumpet- tracks 2 & 5); Keyon Harold (Trumpet- track 1); Joe Lovano (Wooden Tenor Saxophone- track2 & Mezzo Soprano Saxophone- track 3). Recorded: Systems Two Recording Stdio, Brooklyn. Produced: Don Was. Mastered: Ron McMaster. Cover design Mike Joyce , Stereotype Design. Cover photos: Matthew Bitton. Released February 2016. Blue Note.