Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Dr. Lonnie Smith, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the greatest still-active Hammond B-3 artist. That naturally brings up the subject – is Smith’s new Palmetto Record release, Jungle Soul, an accurate and convincing argument for the above premise. The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
The good Doctor has floated between several labels over the past decade. Since 2004, he has recorded for Palmetto. Hopefully, they have him signed to a multialbum contract.
Jungle Soul is a groovy greasy soul combination of self-penned compositions: Jungle Soul, Blue Moment, Zimbabwe, and Jungle Wisdom – along with some classic jazz/soul workings of Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man; Eddie Harris‚ Freedom Jazz Dance; and even a rare soul tackling of Monk’s Bemsha Swing. Throw in Willow Weep for Me for good measure and you can safely say that The Turbinator could make most any pop song climb the grease quotient.
Lonnie has the great Criss Cross label artist guitarist Peter Bernstein along here and the two are as capable as the late great Jimmy Smith, and any of his roster of guitarists. Now that’s a compliment! Producer Balitsaris adds his touch with some guitar licks of his own and even keeps Smith’s occasional ecstatic groaning – a la Jimmy Smith – in the finished mix.
Picking favorites on this CD is like searching for a four-leaf clover in a clover-laden garden. It all depends on which lick or groove catches your attention on a particular hearing of this CD. I’ll guarantee your favorite track will be hard to pin down. Whether it’s Eddie Harris‚ percussion laden Freedom Jazz Dance, the title cut’s African rhythms, or Peter Bernstein’s modal interplay with Lonnie on Bemsha Swing, you know you’ve received a special house call with good news from the Doctor.
Lonnie Smith has paid so many dues that his “Doctor” title, and the turban he wears just for the heck of it and for no special religious meaning, just make sense. He will be making the Festival circuit this Summer and Fall with stops in San Jose, Chicago, Monterey, Seattle and San Francisco. Do yourself a favor – pick up this CD and also see Lonnie in action live. You can tell your friends and family that you saw the last of the “old school” Hammond B-3 players. It’s the easiest and most pain free visit you’ll ever make to a doctor. And his prescriptions are the sweetest you’ll ever partake!
Tracks: Trouble Man, Simone, Jungle Soul, Willow Weep for Me, Freedom Jazz Dance, Blue Moment, Witch Doctor, Bemsha Swing, Zimbabwe, Jungle Wisdom
– Jeff Krow