Artist: Dr. Lonnie Smith
Label: Blue Note
Release date: January 29, 2016
Hammond B3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith returns to Blue Note Records for his first release on the label in 45 years. Evolution does not really represent a change in Smith’s sound, but it does show the seasoned bandleader’s development into a musician who leads a tight, tasteful ensemble. Smith’s signature funk-jazz is present in droves, which is well worth a listen in its own right. What truly makes Evolution stand apart from the herd of jazz releases thus far in 2016 is the organist’s assemblage of master players. Breaking from the traditional organ trio format on all but two tracks, Smith has enlisted several luminary musicians to help him out on this record. The core group consists of Smith on Organ, Joe Dyson on drums, Jonathan Blake on drums — yes, this group has two drummers (!), Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, and John Ellis on a variety of woodwinds, including tenor sax, flute, and bass clarinet. Other jazz superstars also make appearances, with Robert Glasper dropping by for the album’s funky quote-filled opening number “Play it Back” and saxophonist Joe Lovano on two cuts, “Afrodesia,” and “For Heaven’s Sake.”
In addition to Smith’s compelling original cuts, the group explores two standards, “Straight No Chaser” and “My Favorite Things” as a trio, with Kreisberg on guitar and Blake on drums. These cuts are true to the conventions of this format, and are compelling readings of the tunes that showcase the core group’s interpretative vision, making the oft-played tunes fresh in their gifted hands. The original numbers slay, too. Kreisberg gets the opportunity to dig into his wah-wah on “Talk About This,” a funk chant a la The Meters and “African Suite” settles into its multi-layered polyrhythmic groove.
Dr. Lonnie Smith is certainly one of the most versatile and dynamic players to ever helm the B3, and Evolution is a compelling reminder of why the organist deserves his honorific title.
Reviewed by Matthew Alley