Dr. Lonnie Smith – Spiral – Palmetto PM 2142, 49.2 min. *****:
(Dr. Lonnie Smith, B3; Jonathan Kreisberg, guitar; Jamire Williams, drums)
This terrific B3 session caught my ear when it first came across my desk but I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. I was jogged into action by seeing that it has now reached No. 1 airplay position on the Jazz Week radio chart. The turbaned Hammond handler was now getting played more on jazz stations across the U.S. than any other artist. So here’s my two cents worth about this soul-jazz master.
Smith as a young man was given a Hammond B3 by a local music store owner, and we can be very thankful he was. Smith calls him his guardian angel and is still in contact with him. His early fame came with guitarist George Benson, which eventually became a quartet. He also played with Lou Donaldson. He recorded a series of soul jazz classics for Blue Note for many years. In the 70s he converted to Sikhism – thus the turban. (The Dr.? No idea, and he doesn’t bring it up in the two recent interviews I’ve seen with him.)
The eight tunes are all fairly lengthy – no radio edits here. Slide Hampton’s Frame for the Blues even runs almost nine minutes. If the opening Mellow Mood sounds familiar, it’s because it was a classic of organ great Jimmy Smith. Two originals from Dr. Smith balanced against not-overplayed standards such as Sweet & Lovely. Smith’s title tune, Spiral, opens with a rather spooky film noirish feeling and a moody guitar solo from Kreisberg. It and the disc’s artwork made me think of the logo for Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Harold Mabern’s Beehive takes us into an edgy fusion style, opening with some electronic sounds which you might think come from the B3 but are really the electric guitar. The closing rather corny Sukiyaki is probably the most popular tune in Japan, which Smith likes and wanted a more light-hearted simple treatment for.
TrackList: Mellow Mood, I’ve Never Been in Love Before, Frame for the Blues, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, Sweet & Lovely, Spiral, Beehive, Sukiyaki
– John Henry