Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Dr. Lonnie Smith: Evolution

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Dr. Lonnie Smith, one of the godfathers of the jazz organ, returns to the record label that cemented his status as a B-3 king in the 1960s. Now, 45 years after his previous session for Blue Note, Smith has issued not only what might be his own greatest album but one of the finest contributions to the jazz-organ canon.

Evolution is a tour de force consisting of seven mostly long tracks in decidedly different styles. This is an album that showcases the many sides of organ-based jazz. “Play It Back,” a 14-minute clinic in greasy ’70s funk, reads like an amped-up homage to Jimmy Smith. The first keys are played not by Smith but by crossover pianist Robert Glasper, informing us immediately that this is not your grandpa’s organ-jazz record, though the main riff is straight-up “Root Down.” If the rhythms of Evolution seem particularly infectious, that’s because there are two drummers, Johnathan Blake and Joe Dyson, delivering them on four of the seven tunes. That’s partly what makes the reworking of Smith’s “Afrodesia”-featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, whose debut arrived on Smith’s 1975 album of the same name-so banging.

Textures constantly move. Lovano shows up again on “For Heaven’s Sake,” which despite its smooth-jazz proclivities is the most romantic slice of organ jazz you’ve heard in years. A traditional organ trio, with guitar and drums, tackles Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser,” and here Smith offers a long, juicy solo that pulls no punches and serves no gimmicks. “Talk About This” is more modern, with grooving beats, funky horns and J.B.’s-type chants. An unconventional treatment of “My Favorite Things”-with a super-long, super-quiet intro-takes its sweet time (11 minutes) developing, and Smith ends with a 10-minute version of his African Suite that emphasizes African rhythms and John Ellis’ superb flute playing. Just when you think you’ve heard everything that organ jazz has to offer, Dr. Lonnie Smith evolves.

Originally Published