April 2009

Dr. Lonnie Smith
Rise Up!
Palmetto Records

It took a while for the good Doctor to get his groove back. The turban-wearing Hammond organist with an ear for rubbery soul-jazz lent his blue notes to George Benson and Lou Donaldson throughout the 1960s. Smith then created an unsurpassable level of infamy for his deliriously funky Think in 1968. It was the sort of smoldering hot-baked jazz that hip-hop kids give their eyeteeth to sample now. Bravo, Dr. Smith. But there were too few solo records between his mid-’70s prime and the early ’90s. Even upon return, a mid-’90s tribute to Jimi Hendrix was passable but not epic. It took the molten swing of 2000’s The Turbinator (which also showed off Smith, the pianist, at his most tender) and 2003’s saucy soulful Boogaloo to Beck to bring the Doctor back to frisky form.

Like every disc Smith’s recorded since 2003, Rise Up! rattles and hums with muddied watered density. When Smith isn’t busy grumbling the words to the bubbling “Come Together,” the organist and his drummer, Herlin Riley, brew up a percolating blend of rhythmic blue jazz on “A Matterapat” and “Pilgrimage” worthy of a house party. An epic “People Make the World Go Round” may start as a gently bubbling blues through which Smith adds wisps of Hammond. But as it builds, the track becomes a testament to alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and his powerhouse squeal.

For all the sass Smith’s unit brings to the muskiest of funky workouts, Rise Up! shows how settling down nicely is its shockingly strongest suit when approaching the precious balladry of “Dapper Dan” and the mid-tempo shoulder-shimmying “Tyrone.” But mostly it’s “And the World Weeps” that proves to be Smith’s charmer, a pensive sad song whose stewing organ swirls find their own holy-rolling gospel.

Originally published in April 2009
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