Now in his second spell with the Blue Note label after an absence of some forty-six years, Lonnie Smith offers up a live recording with his latest trio from an evening at the Jazz Standard Club in New York on the year of his seventy-fifth birthday and it is both an evocation of the classic Blue Note era of the 1960’s and a re-working of some of his own material. For those not already aware, Smith emerged as a highly effective Hammond organist during the mid-late 1960’s invariably working as sideman to both a young guitarist by the name of George Benson and alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. As a leader, he cut three definitive slices of soul-jazz in, ‘Think!’, (the title track a reworking of the then Aretha Franklin soul hit) ‘Turning Point’ and, ‘Move your hand’, in the process recording with greats such as Lee Morgan, Bennie Maupin and Julian Priester, to name but a few. Meanwhile. for a generation of hip-hop create diggers, his late 1960’s live album, ‘Layin’ in the cut’, and the groovy album cover of, ‘Drives’, with a dynamite take on Edwin Starr’s ‘Twenty-five miles’, endeared him into the fold and in the mid-1990’s came the issue of the previously unreleased, ‘Live at Club Mozambique’, which continued very much in the vein of the aforementioned Blue Note albums. For the new live recording, Smith has revisited a Jazz Messengers staple in, ‘Up jumped spring’, composed by Freddie Hubbard, and this is a lengthy, winding rendition that gives plenty of space to guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, who seems to have soaked up some of the modern jazz guitar masters licks, from Benson to Pat Martino, and not forgetting Melvin Sparks, while elsewhere drummer, Jonathan Blake (Joe Dyson deputizes on one track) and the leader, engage in regular duets, including on an inventive re-interpretation of Paul Simon’s, ‘Fifty ways to lose your lover’. A hurculean take on Wayne Shorter’s epic Blue Note album title piece, ‘Juju’, is a welcome surprise with the intensity raised a notch or two.
Possibly, the addition of a horn player might have added another dimension, but Lonnie Smith is happy to retain this pared down formation. As it is, Smith’s own composition, ‘All in my mind’, is re-worked with vocals by Alicia Olatuja. A welcome return to the major label for Dr. Lonnie Smith who is still in fine form and recalling those other great Hammond organists on Blue Note, Big John Patton, Larry Young, and not forgetting the daddy of them all, Jimmy Smith.