Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dr. Lonnie Smith - All In My Mind (Blue Note, 2018)

Dr. Lonnie Smith is a longstanding jazz organist in the relaxed and popular soul-jazz vein, he is originally from western New York State (snowy Lackawanna) and eventually rose to prominence in the 1960's with some popular and well received albums for Blue Note Records. He was recently proclaimed an NEA Jazz Master and this live album was recorded during the celebration of his seventy-fifth birthday at the Jazz Standard in New York City. On this album he is accompanied by Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar Johnathan Blake on drums with drummer Joe Dyson and vocalist Alicia Olatuja sitting in. Wayne Shorter's "Juju" is a wonderful way to kick off the proceedings, showing that Smith is as comfortable with progressive jazz material as he is with more groove based performances. The readily indefinable melody gives them a firm foundation to develop a swirling and swinging group improvisation that also incorporates some stinging soloing for organ and guitar and crisp propulsive drum work, while the version of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" allows the band to establish a ballad format and stretch out on the material. This is a lengthy and at times meditative performances, with each of the members of the trio contributing to and returning to aspects of the original melody throughout their slow burning improvisation, adding bursts of energy to liven up the dynamics of the performance. "Devika" is also a ballad that sways gently and then builds swells of energy from the organ and Smith is able to use some orchestral effects to broaden and deepen the sound of the music along with sitting at the command console of the mighty Hammond B3 organ, capable of dancing on bass pedals and (literally) pulling out all of the stops to make for exciting and accessible music. There is an ethereal nature to the vocal performance "All In My Mind" with soft swells of keyboard and guitar with plaintive and emotional singing. The organ takes on a spiritual and church inspired vibe, gaining strength and rising inexorably like the tide overflowing the musicians and the audience in waves of sound. Vocals arch out over the music seeking grace and understanding, and beautifully holding some final notes for added resonance. "Up Jumped Spring" ends the album in a joyfully jaunty foundation, with the Grant Green inspired guitar lines from Kreisberg and the agile drumming keeping things on point. Smith takes command quickly, moving over the length and breadth of his keyboards with facility and grace, weaving snatches of melody and rhythm into an intoxicating brew, and taking the band out therefor concluding a thoughtful and memorable concert, one that should be accessible to all jazz fans and enthusiasts. All In My Mind - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.