June 21, 2024

Dr. Lonnie Smith – “Breathe” – Hammond B3 master at work

BLUE NOTE RECORDS 26th March 2021

The Hammond B3 organ is a wonderful instrument. Not only does it have a warm sound, given organic texture when run through a Leslie rotating speaker, but the glottal nature of the keys let it move between extended notes and exquisitely detailed timing, enabling it to be alternately soothing and jazzy. As a jazz instrument it doesn’t often take the lead and Jimmy Smith is the man many will think of, on Blue Note in the sixties. Dr Lonnie Smith (no relation!) is the modern master of the instrument and has made a short run of records since his return to Blue Note that further cement his place in the history of the Hammond.

Like the other recent discs, this is mostly recorded live with his regular band, a trio, but a couple of studio tracks added and the trio augmented. Here, two of them are the USP; Iggy Pop singing on Timmy Thomas’ ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’ and Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’. Smith says: “I was playing with my trio at Arts Garage in Delray Beach in Florida. Iggy would come by and say he wanted to play with me. I let him play slaparoo and he loved it. We thought about recording a few songs, so we went in with my trio backing us up, and it worked.” It does, but all the other tracks are as great, moving between jazzy swing and big instrumental ballad mode. There is another vocal track, with soulful vocals from Smith’s daughter and another cover – Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy. The band is excellent and when any of them kick up a solo, it is good but the big jams from Dr Lonnie are just huge, prompting jazzing head nods and keyboard faces (if there is such a thing).

Caution: Dr Lonnie isn’t a real doctor, just as Ellington wasn’t a real Duke, Basie a Count or Nat Cole a King. Jazz can be a disappointment for followers of titles. Onstage, Smith is an imposing figure, very tall, with a turban perched on top, adding to the towering presence (no, he’s not a real Sikh either….). His warm smile and obvious pleasure in his playing are winning in concert and are somehow visible in his records. Don Was has wisely chosen to capture the band in their natural environment, a small jazz club, and it makes for an excellent picture of a band at the peak of telepathic jamming prowess. “It’s so hard to capture what I’m feeling at the moment in the studio,” says Dr Lonnie, “Hearing me live is catching me playing in the moment. It’s a good vibe. It’s a loving situation.” I love Smith’s trio but the addition of four brass instruments adds another layer of intricacy and impulse to improvise. Sadly, the venue the live tracks were recorded at, back in 2017 (along with his last album), has now closed, due to the economics of COVID-19.

This really does deserve your time and will treat your ears and the part of your brain that vibes on good jazz.

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