Relaxing at Sea: Live on the QE2
Forget about the casual atmosphere and rampant stage patter; this is an excellent album strictly on musical terms. Donaldson's longtime organist, Dr. Lonnie Smith, has been at the peak of his powers for several years now. "Best organist in the country!" Donaldson declares following a mint version of his Blue Note classic "The Midnight Creeper." Smith can do things sonically and texturally with an organ that most synthesizer players haven't even dreamed of.
Guitarist Randy Johnston provides sensitive support, lays out where appropriate, and shows a flair for the blues. Johnston's debut recording, Homage (J Curve), was one of the nice surprises of 1999, hinting at this tasteful guitarist's future potential. Smith's regular drummer, Danny Burger, lays down bebop and funk where appropriate. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton joins the group on three numbers, including a sterling "I Can't Get Started."
Like Benny Carter and Jackie McLean, Donaldson is a living legend and a national treasure. His sound is huge and plaintive, with just the right amount of "dirt." He always sounds so calm, whether taking a request ("'Confirmation'? I can't even remember it! How does it go?"), moaning a wistful "Harlem Nocturne" or belting out a raunchy blues ("Whiskey Drinkin' Woman"), that the listener can't help but be relaxed, too.