Hammond B-3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith returns with a soulful, funky session of straight-ahead grooves and smoldering moods on Jungle Soul. After a series of focused tributes to individual musicians (John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and Beck, respectively), this release finds the good doctor drawing from classic and original source material for an enjoyable theme ride through the proverbial dark continent.
Joined by a stripped-down organ combo lineup of guitar and drums, Smith charts a course of smoldering intensity. Guitarist Peter Bernstein works with Palmetto Records producer Matt Balitsaris, who plays rhythm and acoustic guitar here. Both players hold forth with a bright, clean tone and sinuous linearity, matching Smith's rumbling undulations with their own searing highs. Up and coming drummer Allison Miller demonstrates ambitious creativity and excellent chops on a session full of subtle surprises. Whether locking into straight-ahead swing grooves or mimicking entire African drum choirs, Miller never falters.
From the easy going blues grooves of "Trouble Man" and "Simone" to the sultry funk grind of "Witch Doctor" and manic thrill ride of "Zimbabwe," Smith and his cohorts pilot a journey through scenic terrain. The tender ballad "Blue Moment" finds Smith at his most dulcet and reflective, while "Jungle Wisdom" reveals a more experimental side as he plays pneumatically, generating marimba like tones from his B-3. Miller sets up a barrage of percussive effects, emulating multiple hand drummers with polyrhythmic flair.
Smith takes a laid-back approach overall, with only a moment or two of relative abandon. Breathing fresh life into a regal chestnut like "Willow Weep for Me," Smith ratchets up the intensity level in a boisterous, rambunctious solo of gospel-like intensity. Other standards receive a similarly unique treatment. "Bemsha Swing" oozes darkness, played with gauzy chording and a slinky tempo, while "Freedom Jazz Dance" takes on an Africanized sheen, complete with funky, modulated polyrhythmic effects.
As jazz records go, Jungle Soul qualifies as a perfect summer album. While it may be enjoyable in the light of day, its smoky, dark ambience lends itself perfectly to late night moods.
Personnel: Dr. Lonnie Smith: organ; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Matt Balitsaris: guitar; Allison Miller: drums, percussion.