He may not be an actual doctor, and he doesn’t play one on TV, but 78-year-old, turban-topped Hammond organist Dr. Lonnie Smith further proves he’s one of the all-time jazz iconoclasts with his mostly live new CD, Breathe. Cases in point are opening and closing studio covers featuring a seemingly polar-opposite musical leftist in rock vocalist Iggy Pop, whose pre-punk band the Stooges rose out of Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1967 just as Smith emerged from Buffalo, New York as a solo artist and sideman with guitarist George Benson and saxophonist Lou Donaldson.
Pop is uncharacteristically understated on versions of Timmy Thomas’ 1973 R&B hit “Why Can’t We Live Together” and Donovan’s 1967 pop hit “Sunshine Superman,” with stirring solos by Smith and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and rhythmic accompaniment by drummer Johnathan Blake and percussionist Richard Bravo. The six live tracks sandwiched in between, captured at New York’s Jazz Standard in 2017 for a celebration of Smith’s 75th birthday, add tenor saxophonist John Ellis, baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall, trumpeter Sean Jones, and trombonist Robin Eubanks, with powerful results.
The horn section expertly punctuates Smith compositions like the buoyant “Bright Eyes,” the shape-shifting “Track 9” (featuring banner work by Ellis and Blake), and the introspective “Too Damn Hot” and “World Weeps.” The latter, sans horns, allows longtime Smith trio member Kreisberg room to stretch through a cascading solo before the Doctor surgically improvises one of his own. The trio is also in lockstep during a percolating cover of “Epistrophy,” and vocalist Alicia Olatuja and the horns add ample spice to a poignant, gospel-tinged version of Smith’s signature composition “Pilgrimage.”