Dr Lonnie Smith – Evolution

evolution(Blue Note)

The turbanned Doctor of the Hammond B-3 is one of those timeless jazz characters – he seems to have been around forever and always sounds of the moment, even when that moment is 45 years since his last Blue Note album.

This time he has Don Was producing, Robert Glasper and Joe Lovano as special guests, and a book of classics, both from his own pen and those of others. As the album reveals, he doesn’t really need those guests; still, if it draws new ears towards the man, who’s complaining?

Play It Back opens, a barrelling boogaloo with Smith’s core trio (Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, Johnathan Blake on drums) augmented by John Ellis on tenor, Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Joe Dyson on a second drum kit and Mr Glasper at the non-electric ivories. After a series of solos from the others, the leader tops them all and it all ends with a cool horn coda before the grand finale.

Lovano made his recording debut on Smith’s 1975 album Afrodesia, and he returns to play on this track of the same name on G mezzo soprano; he’s on tenor for For Heaven’s Sake. The former is another good blowing tunes and Smith gives the horns some space while he and the twin drummers deepen the groove, Kreisberg adding Shaft-style wah-rhythm guitar; the latter is a seductive ballad with lazy horn lines and a chilled groove.

Monk’s Straight No Chaser and the Rodgers/Hammerstein My Favorite Things are trio affairs, the latter with an hilariously over-the-top and incongruous intro from Smith on synths and Hammond. Talk About This returns to the funky, urban sound, and African Suite dresses the two-drummer, organ, guitar and flute line-up with added tribal chant and elephant trumpeting samples.

It’s a riot of an album from start to finish, showing not only how versatile the Doctor is but what an irrepressible showman too. Music to lift the winter gloom.

  • Dr Lonnie Smith will be playing Ronnie Scott’s in London on 23/24 February before touring Europe with dates in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and Switzerland. He’ll also be at the Jazz Standard in New York for his birthday week in late June/early July. More here.


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  1. 2016 Festive Fifty – 30-21 – thejazzbreakfast

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