NEW MUSIC WEEK 2016 (NOVEMBER 14-20, 2016)
Frequent readers of these bloggish ramblings know that I'm a sucker for the Hammond B3 organ so this album is right in my wheelhouse. Dr. Lonnie Smith spends this whole disc dialing up a '60s & '70s jazz funk groove and it's perfect. "Evolution" is an odd title choice for a throwback album, but I can't argue with the results so I'll shut up about it.
There's no bass listed in the credits, but my ear is hearing it so maybe the guitar player is doing something. Or is that Smith's left hand pumping out the bottom? Great arrangements and production throughout. Don Was not only expertly produced this, he's also head of Blue Note Records, so that all worked out nicely.
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart
Peak on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart: #8
- Play It Back - a 14 minute funk tune with all kinds of solos, the best coming from pianist Robert Glasper. Originally from Smith's Live At Club Mozambique (recorded 1970), this sets the tone for the rest of the tracks.
- Afrodesia - the funk continues, although a bit slower. This track features saxophonist Joe Lovano, who originally recorded this tune with Smith back in 1975. Lovano steals the track with his "G" Mezzo Soprano Saxophone (new instrument to me) solo, but trumpeter Maurice Brown also takes a tasty turn.
- For Heaven's Sake - things slow down in this original Smith ballad, again featuring Lovano, this time on tenor saxophone. The melody is doubled by tenor sax and bass clarinet - not a combination you hear everyday but the arrangement ideally suits the melody. Smith and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg both offer up tasteful, restrained solos.
- Straight No Chaser - a manic, often frantic, take on the Thelonius Monk standard. Sounds like the trio is having a blast. Kreisberg (what a great tone!) makes this one his own while drummer Jonathan Blake is throwing as many polyrhythms into his playing as he can think of. I prefer the funkier tunes, but jazz purists would love this cut.
- Talk About This - a Smith original that brings to mind Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock funk. Producer Was should have stepped in and gotten rid of the vocals, but that's a small nit to pick. This track contains my favorite organ solo on the whole album.
- My Favorite Things - Smith adds some synth work to this Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from The Sound Of Music. It's not quite working for me and doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album. Smith is brave to tackle a tune which Coltrane laid claim to (and still owns) in 1961. Still an intriguing listen, though.
- African Suite - The album finishes with a 10 minute suite written by Smith. If you're hoping the album would finish as funky as it started, you're outta luck because this sounds just like you'd expect from the title (although it hardly could be considered a suite). The track features nice flute work over a jazz waltz feel with lots of drumming - Hey! I just noticed there's two drummers on the track, although one is clearly playing percussion and not the traditional traps. Fun tune, but it wouldn't surprise me if the only first 5 tracks of this album get the plays from now on.
|Down Beat, March 2016, p. 52|
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None, but evidently you can just start calling yourself "Dr." and people go along with it. If I'd known that 15 years ago, I coulda saved myself some time and money. (side note: I just paid off my student loans from that last degree so I'm very happy with that).
This CD is the only one featured this week that came in a good old-fashioned hard plastic jewel case, the way CDs were meant to be stored. All the other new releases from this theme week came in digipaks or cardboard sleeves. I'd classify myself as treehugger environmentalist, but I just can't help lovin' the plastic here. Sorry to see it being phased out; call me a sentimental fool. Or simply a fool.