DVD Review: Jimmy Smith

DVD Review: Jimmy Smith -Live In ’69
From Jazz Icons Series 4
Review by Pete Whittaker

This DVD offers two French TV programmes totalling 90 minutes compiled from a single concert recorded at the Salle Pleyel, Paris in 1969. Audio selections from this concert have already been available on CD.

One of the most astonishing things about James Oscar (Jimmy) Smith (1928-2005), was the way he constantly found new ways to propel the Hammond organ – not necessarily the most obvious of instruments for jazz – in new directions. This had as much to do with his restless ebullient character as much as anything else. Jimmy was not one to openly theorise or expound on his musical ethos or remarkable technique. He just let his sublime talent speak for itself.

By the time the concert on this DVD was recorded, around the time of his forty-first birthday in December 1969, Jimmy had long since established the organ as a bone fide voice in the hard-bop tradition. However, he had apparently tired of the very clean, mean focused sound that he’d single-handedly invented. That subtly oscillating but spatially static sound had been his signature, and was subsequently adopted by all the other organ players. Here, instead, we hear Jimmy using a purer but more expansive sound – huge wide spaced chords imposing their authority and revealing another side to familiar blues progressions, and roller coaster dynamic changes especially in the ballads.

In terms of material, Smith choses predominantly tunes from his 1960s Blue Note and Verve recordings – Sonnymoon For Two, Satin Doll, Organ Grinder’s Swing and an absolutely phenomenal version of his blues The Sermon. However, a funkier soul-jazz element is represented in the form of Got My Mojo Working and (the curiously titled) A Funky Blues Called I Don’t Know which looks forward to Jimmy’s 1970s funk excursions as realised in such albums as 1972’s Root Down and the All the Way Live! collaboration with Eddie Harris (1981).

Jimmy Smith is on dazzling form throughout. Personally speaking as an organist, this opportunity to actually see how he weaves his magic – jaw-dropping runs, furious grooves, pathos-dripping ballads….. is gold dust. I dare say that most fans will be similarly captivated. The trio is no democracy though! Drummer Charlie Crosby (a B.B. King and Roland Kirk sideman) and guitarist Eddie Mcfadden are very much in the shade of the bandleader, but nevertheless provide more than the requisite support.

There are no virtually no announcements, the only vocalisation is on Jimmy’s husky trademark rendition of Got My Mojo Working. The black-and-white picture quality is mainly good and sharp, and the mono audio is clear and well balanced. The camera work and editing is creative and intelligent, and there are plenty of close-ups of the three musicians. A 24 page booklet is included with extensive biographical notes, reviews and photos. Recommended.

Pete Whittaker plays organ on the new CD
Nigel Price Organ Trio – Live! (Jazzizit). Release date December 7th.

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2 replies »

  1. Dare I say that, great as Jimmy Smith was, I prefer Mike Carr? He used the pedals to greater effect as well as swinging with the best of them. Find LP 'Hammond under Pressure' with Tony Crombie and you'll see what I mean

  2. I have checked out this DVD, and it is top-notch! I don't think it is a stretch in any way to say this is the best video footage we have of Jimmy Smith. This Live in '69 is actually even better than the 'Jazz Scene USA 1962' broadcast.

    Jimmy Smith was the true master, which is very evident here, and he has a certain quality (drive and urge) in addition to superb technique in his playing that probably never will be surpassed, not even by todays number one: the organ wizard Joey DeFrancesco.

    Anyway, this DVD is great from the beginning to the end, with surprisingly good camera work.

    Eddie McFadden, the cool guitarist, will make no one disappointed with his performance aided by his Gretch and Fender amp, and the drummer Charlie Crosby lays a very solid backdrop using his Premier drums.

    /Jazz Organ Fan

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