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Dr. Lonnie Smith: In the Beginning, Volumes 1 & 2

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Dr. Lonnie Smith’s new two-disc album is not only his most invigorating effort in years, it’s also one of the most exciting Hammond B-3 albums in some time. Credit the octet format on several tracks for adding heaps of energy and pizzazz. And credit arranger Ian Hendrickson-Smith for skillfully polishing the various facets of Smith’s style on this collection of originals, which reaches back to the ’60s via the soulful fuss of “Keep Talkin’,” the blues testifying of “Aw Shucks,” the slinky sensuality of “Slow High” and the funky soul of “Move Your Hand,” featuring a vocal from the good Dr.

Ultimately, though, it’s the exceptional trio at the core of this live recording that matters most. Smith’s command of the organ is remarkable-dig his mesmerizing, multiphonic-like running of separate but equal lines. Onetime Dizzy Gillespie guitarist Ed Cherry’s melodic snap and drummer Johnathan Blake’s adrenalized-in-the-groove strokes-especially on the psychedelic swinger “Turning Point”-enliven the classic sound. The trio (sometimes joined by conga player Little Johnny Rivero) doesn’t need the horns (saxophonists Hendrickson-Smith and John Ellis and trumpeter Andy Gravish) to produce powerhouse moments.

Such are the roaring capabilities of the Hammond that surrounding it with an expanded cast of players can be an exercise in excess. There’s a reason Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie’s great role model, didn’t often return to big-band settings following his early ’60s collaborations with Oliver Nelson and Lalo Schifrin. But Dr. Lonnie and Hendrickson-Smith are less interested in ramping up the sound than in adding harmonic color and depth. As demonstrated on the recent composition “Falling in Love,” they do that exceptionally well.

Originally Published