Dr. Lonnie Smith Returns to Blue Note: The Groove is the Thing

lonnie smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Evolution (Blue Note) — Lonnie Smith forever has been all about celebrating and tweaking the classic ’60s B3 organ-combo sound. The turbaned one effectively sticks to that strategy with the Don Was-produced Evolution, his first album for Blue Note in 45 years.

His funk-alicious rhythms undergird a marathon 14-minute reworking of old favorite “Play It Back,” bolstered by Robert Glasper’s contrasting acoustic piano and solo turns from tenor saxophonist John Ellis and trumpeter Keyon Harrold. Saxophonist Joe Lovano guests on soprano on the trippy, wah-edged “Afrodesia” and tenor on the slow-burning “For Heaven’s Sake”; he turns in fruitful solos, but seems a bit underused.

The disc’s core trio — Smith, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jonathan Blake — is featured on a reharmonized “Straight No Chaser” and an extended, rambling version of “My Favorite Things” that opens with a long, slow build before moving to a full gallop.

Dr. Lonnie’s latest is less about extraordinary improvising or, as the album’s title might suggest, taking his chosen form in new directions. But his medicine still tastes good — occasional experimental edges, odd electronic touches, stray trombone blasts (“African Suite”) and all.

(Side note: “Play It Back” has long been in the repertoire of my band Acme Jazz Garage)

 

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