JazzTimes 10: Classic Organ Jazz Albums

What to hear when you need to get your Hammond on

4. Dr. Lonnie Smith: Spiral (Palmetto, 2010)

Some jazz fans gave the National Endowment for the Arts a little flak in 2017 for choosing Dr. Lonnie Smith as an NEA Jazz Master. True, he’s not a game-changer. But he does have an approach to the soul-jazz organ tradition that’s both virtuosic and idiosyncratic. Spiral is perhaps an unusual choice among his recordings, but it demonstrates his uniquely weird take on jazz organ, from the smoky darkness of “Mellow Mood” (more moody than mellow) and “Spiral” to the strange twists of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “Beehive” to the relatively conventional but still unexpected “Sukiyaki.” In addition, it features Smith with perhaps the best trio of his long career, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums. It’s the curious jazz fan’s best bet for tracking how the soul-jazz organ tradition developed into the 21st century.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.