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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Afro Blue

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Whole chapters in The Book of Coltrane have been revisited of late to good effect, e.g., Harold Danko’s Quartet springboarding the momentous Ellington encounter. Dr. Lonnie Smith takes four Trane tunes for a spin on his power organ with John Abercrombie (playing more and more down-home guitar as he ages) and Smitty Smith (a drummer who delivers pizzazz in 18″ ride packages). This organ trio-not one for a comfy Philly bar where Trane himself would have worked out R&B-plays meaty, exploratory stretch versions of four Trane tunes: intense “Impressions,” dreamy “Lonnie’s Lament,” joyous “Bessie’s Blues,” (these two flip-flopped on the cover) and a frenetically coded “Naima.” Mongo Santamaria’s title tune lends itself also to Coltrane’s Afro Blue Impressions [Pablo, rel. 1977], which has Classic Quartet (Tyner, Garrison, E. Jones) versions of all but “Bessie’s Blues” and Smith’s own greensleevian tribute, “Traces of Trane.”

Interplay, as with Coltrane’s own band, stands foremost. On “Afro Blue,” guitar limns sinuous, echoey orientalia, organ comments dark and ominously, and drums take 12/8 in and out, in and out. Each track is a springboard into a deep pool. The trio thinks across styles and reaches wide harmonically; their music is hard-hitting, no-nonsense, outreaching, impassioned, yet basic-like Trane’s.