Sunday, March 28, 2021

Dr. Lonnie Smith - Breathe (Blue Note Records, 2021)

Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith was introduced to an unexpected collaborator for his latest album which became bookended by two cover songs featuring the vocals of rock icon Iggy Pop. The meat of the album though, comes from recordings made during week of live performances at the Jazz Standard in 2017. Smith is at the top of his game, playing the organ in a visionary manner and leading a crack band that includes guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake, plus a horn section consisting on John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Jason Marshall on baritone saxophone, Sean Jones on trumpet, and Robin Eubanks on trombone. “Why Can’t We Live Together” opens the album with psychedelic washes of organ, and restrained near crooning from Iggy. Organ and drums own the mid section, picking up to a heady groove, each step a little louder, backing off for a nimble guitar solo, and Iggy's restrained vocals which float then fade. The strong full band opening with horns for “Bright Eyes” sets the stage; Smith really has a fine touch on the organ, soloing with energy and wit. The horns punch through at times to comment, and one of the saxophones branches out for a gutsy and raw interlude. "Track 9" is slow and slinky, riding a funky groove, probing saxophones and horns reaching out, as the drums snap, saxophonist taking thing way out sounds good. Free range trumpet fast with encouraging drums, saxophone enters where the other left off; all in all a great performance, fun and exciting. Heavy ominous drums and bass pedals open “World Weeps” with Smith's full organ opening up slowly, astride sad long tones of guitar, which Kreisberg weaves into a spare, patient and desolate guitar feature.  His guitar speeds up and soars, amid huge organ chords push it higher, then close;  leading to a sense of hope as spacious organ and percussion, swell dramatically to conclude. “Pilgrimage” begins with unaccompanied and then introduces the pleasant vocals of Alicia Olatuja, with gentle supporting playing behind her, including horns. There is a bright beaming guitar section, which bursts to bloom among blossoming horns and organ. Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” is a lot of fun with fine drumming setting the pace, and stabs of organ and horns glistening overhead. Smith's organ plays the memorable theme along with guitar, developing a collective improvisation that gets complex and adventurous. The groovy Donovan theme of "Sunshine Superman" with hand percussion and organ guiding the melody and  Iggy takes a low pressure stab at the lyrics, his deep baritone gliding under the organ.  After and excellent instrumental breakdown, there's a vocal reprise and out. A lot of the press has been about Iggy Pop and he sings well, but the focus should really be on the band, who really cooks throughout this well played and consistently interesting recording. Breathe - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.