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DVD Review: Jimmy Smith

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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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