Dr Lonnie Smith All in My Mind
(Blue Note. CD Review by Peter Jones)
A couple of things to clear up before we get on with reviewing this fine album: first of all, Dr Lonnie Smith should not be confused with Lonnie Liston Smith, another jazz keyboard player in his 70s. Secondly, his doctorate is in the well-known science of Groovology – one that remains unrecognized by academia, yet whose day will surely come.
This Lonnie Smith is a turbaned god of the Hammond B3, and All in My Mind is a live recording made last year at New York’s Jazz Standard. It features his long-time collaborators Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Johnathan Blake on drums.
Elements of funk, soul and R&B often characterised the organ trios of the 1960s and ’70s, and the Smith outfit is no exception. But in subtle ways their approach is different in feel to the organ trios of yore. Smith made his name as a showman and an innovator: the showman sports a long white beard to go with his turban and elaborate robes. The innovator, meanwhile, chooses unexpected material, like Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, perhaps included in part because of the groove potential in the song’s twitchy second-line beat.
Of course, the Hammond organ was the original synthesizer, and Smith can also do astonishing things with his B3 – for example, making the instrument sound as if it’s haunted by the spirit of Gil Evans. On the opening to Alhambra, a lengthy Sketches of Spain-style outing, he creates muted trumpet, flute and trombone sounds that sound uncannily convincing. After this restrained Miles Davis opening, Blake turns the tune into a driving rock-samba, Kreisberg takes wing with a skittish high-velocity solo, and Smith follows with his own, a growling, cascading tour de force that would have made Keith Emerson proud.
On the soulful title track, which Smith first recorded back in 1977 as a fast shuffle, singer Alicia Olatuja joins the trio to powerful effect; the song has mutated, 40 years later, into a slow-burning gospel tune. The album ends with the most conventional organ trio tune so far – a hip rendition of Up Jumped Spring.
All in My Mind is a thrill-ride – beautiful, surprising, absorbing and satisfying from start to finish.