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Live Reviews

Jammin' On The Hammond: An Organ Summit

By Published: March 13, 2004
It was now time to behold one of the most influential and monumental jazz musicians we have come to know. A man who has embraced life and music unlike any other, carrying his words for all ears, giving inspiration and guidance and the man who organized this summit, Dr. Lonnie Smith. He gave a lesson on what one could really do with this organ, get down. With his partner for many, many years Idris Muhammad at side yet again (see Lou Donaldson – Alligator Boogaloo issued on Blue Note Records. Note: before finding Islam, Idris Muhammad was known as Leo Morris) along with guitar legend in the making John Abercrombie, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and James Carter making his second appearance, the always comedic and lively Dr. souled it out. Playing with the drawbars and getting a few laughs, the band started off in a low, grimy blues fashion with Cuber and Carter trading as Abercrombie complimented with some tastes of his own. Swinging into Stanley Turrentine’s “Minor Chant,” the Dr. sang along with the melody, scatting and growling as his fingers spoke universes in sound. James Carter blew remarkably in the shape of Turrentine. Before the next number, the exuberant Dr. Smith informed the audience that the original title, “Play it Back” would be now be known raucously as “F-U-C-K, Tell Her I’m Here.” Idris immediately dropped into the signature breakbeat funk getting the big Ronnie Cuber to shake something. The Dr. settled in and electrified, pulsating rhythms emanating as the band ended in dissonance, then dropped back in to the breakbeat with such ease.

It had seemed that so far all that all was covered, but this was told to be untrue. Inviting back “the bad young lion” Pat Martino to join him for the first session they had ever played side-by-side, tenors Carter and Person and guitarist Randy Johnston, Dr. Smith introduced the prodigal son of the Philadelphia organ family, the one and only Jimmy McGriff. He may have needed a little assistance to get out on stage but sitting behind that B-3 he was a dancer. Opening this session with Sonny Rollins’ Caribbean classic “St. Thomas,” it was all smiles in Alice Tully Hall; musicians and listeners alike felt the spirit, McGriff’s touch turning hearts to gold. The pair of tenors blew something mean and Randy Johnston once again impressed. Giving it to THE funky drummer, Idris took it out with the ill breaks and brought the groove back with percussive supremacy.

After a short break, the evening continued with the amazing collaborations that had been hoped for at first word of this event. The first lineup consisted of the organ duet of Dr. Smith and Joey DeFrancesco, dueling six-strings Pat Martino and John Abercrombie, staple of the evening playing for three plus hours drummer Idris Muhammad, and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber. It began with a little give and take between the Dr. DeFrancesco, teasing each other with lightning speed and sensitivity; the duel illustrated the dichotomy of styles complimenting the B-3 tradition. This continued into the first collaborative number greatly received by the audience, “Impressions.” The space allowed all of the instrumentalists to display their dexterity as both soloists and rhythm players, showing what it takes to flourish and become a great artist in the true sense. Trading places, the second round, comprising the talents of Rhoda Scott and DeFrancesco on organ, Randy Johnston on guitar, tenors Person and Carter and of course Idris was much the same as all the musicians were brilliant. For the grand finale, everyone took the stage for one final blues session because now it was party time. Jimmy McGriff took center stage as he tore it up, getting the Dr. and DeFrancesco to start dancing and clap along. Once again, James Carter sung powerfully at his turn, as did Rhoda when she was given the floor. A dream come true for all on this evening, musicians and listeners alike, all united through the harmonious strength of music as all of the performers were thanked with a standing ovation.

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