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

A Tale of Two B3s

Sets by Dr. Lonnie Smith and Wil Blades/Billy Martin reviewed

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Queens, NY 3-12
Wil Blades (l.) and Billy Martin, Sullivan Hall, NYC, 7-12
Wil Blades (l.) and Billy Martin, Sullivan Hall, NYC, 7-12

The last set of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s recent four-night stint at Jazz Standard began and ended with a glorious, funk-soaked bang. The organist, who was marking his 70th birthday at the club, bracketed his concert-length performance with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” the final cut off his 1970 Blue Note LP Drives. The bluesy theme was equally stately and snappy, leaning more toward Booker T. and instrumental R&B than soul-jazz, and during the solos the rhythm section laid down the sort of skittering, headlong, James Brown-styled rhythms that in many ways invented hip-hop and DJ culture. As a soloist, Smith was his usual deliberate self: Evidence of more than a half-century of blowing, every one of his notes held its own indomitable weight (even when he was being funny, as during quotes from “On Broadway”). When he ran out of things to say, he sat back and let the breakbeats simmer underneath him, soaking it all in.

It was the sort of B3-focused grease that vinyl hoarders and other groove fetishists fawn over: a school that Smith helped create and continues to practice better than anyone. But much of the remainder of the set revealed Smith’s truer self-that of the jazz bandleader, often a daring and ambitious one. Historically, the Hammond B3 belongs to the trio-Smith has a great one of those, whose next record is due out in September-but he’s clearly unafraid of larger formats. In 2010, he anchored a 14-piece big band at the Standard; on this weekend, his group was dubbed the “In the Beginning” octet. There’s always been more to the turbaned one than small-combo boogaloo.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published