Johnny "Hammond" Smith: Open House (1963)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The best organ jazz records fuse elements of gospel, blues, and soul together with the atmosphere of a jam session, as if a bunch of friends got together one night to toss a few back and play some tunes. Johnny "Hammond" Smith certainly has the right idea on the first of the sessions on this two-fer reissue; the instrumentation approximates that of Jimmy Smith's classic "The Sermon" but the music burns at a slightly lower temperature. Whereas Jimmy Smith punctuates tunes with great gusts of chords, Johnny "Hammond" Smith prefers to smolder behind, huffing and murmuring and occasionally taking a solo here and there. The presence of McFadden (who gigged with Jimmy Smith early on) and the fiery Thad Jones enlighten this session considerably, both taking memorable solos on a brisk "I Remember You". The others certainly don't embarrass themselves; Powell, a relative unknown, gets in a few good licks on every tune.
McFadden and Jones are missed on the second session, which features hard bop efforts from Virgil Jones and Person that don't really seem to fit the setting. Both are determined to leave no note unturned and often give the impression that they are trying too hard. The quartet does have all four wheels on the ground on steamy blues like "Eloise" and "Twixt The Sheets" (one of the best names for a song of this type ever), but pales next to the earlier group. However, the first session on this two-fer definitely makes this one worthy of acquisition.
Track Listing: Open House, Cyra, I Remember You, Theme From Cleopatra, Blues For De-De, Why Was I Born?, I Love You, Nica's Dream, Cleopatra and The African Knight, Bennie's Dream, Brake Through, Eloise, A Little Taste, Twixt The Sheets.
Personnel: On 1-7: Johnny "Hammond" Smith, organ; Thad Jones, trumpet, cornet; Seldon Powell, saxophone, flute; Eddie McFadden, guitar; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Loe Stevens, drums; Ray Barretto, congas. On 8-14: Johnny "Hammond" Smith, organ; Virgil Jones, trumpet; Houston Person, saxophone; Luis Taylor, drums.
Record Label: Fantasy Jazz