When Gene Ammons’ Bad! Bossa Nova was released, it was rare—and something of a commercial ploy—to combine “world music” and jazz. Four decades later, it is a vibrant and integral part of the music. But if the idea is more accepted now, more is also expected of it. And in this case at least, the good doctor delivers with this consistently appealing and inventive new set.
Like Ammons’ disc, Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Jungle Soul fuses intricate rhythms and soul jazz. Spare, sinewy and taut, it has a quietly insistent force, an undercurrent that pulls all—including the listener—along with it.
The bouncy title track (as “Jungle Soul” was apparently supposed to be for Ammons’ disc as well) is a good example of the lively rhythms and hummable tunes to be found here. Other highlights (and there is hardly a bad track) include a fresh, spiky, faintly mysterious reworking of the Eddie Harris favorite “Freedom Jazz Dance” and a bossa-tinged “Simone.” There’s a modern MMW-ish slow grinder, “Witch Doctor,” but it’s all straight-ahead and swinging with “Willow Weep for Me” and “Bemsha Swing.”
The journey comes to an end at a caravanserai called “Jungle Wisdom.” With tiny organ bubbles percolating up through a latticework of percussion and acoustic guitar, it is a vaguely exotic, slightly giddy, yet somehow completely sweet and serene final stop. But as this set clearly shows, Smith has arrived at his own hard-earned wisdom and is in complete command of his art.