Johnny "Hammond" Smith: Soul Flowers
P>Considering the sometimes-swaggering braggadocio of the soul jazz scene any B-3 player audacious enough to attach the instrument to his name was begging for a fracas from his peers. Fortunately for Smith he had several decades of experience at the organ under his belt when he cut this pair of sessions and the requisite chops to hold his own against most dissenters. Adding to his advantage was the large group of veteran session players assembled for the dates, particularly the double tenor front line of by Person and Edwards, two solid and soulful improvisers. Where this disc falters and Smith really falls short however is in the prosaic flavor of his chosen material.
Reading and sounding more like a television’s greatest themes package circa 1967, the first session wallows in simple fatback grooves and sluggish boogaloo rhythms. Kicking things off with “Theme from N.Y.P.D” replete with faux police sirens Smith sets an insipid standard for what’s to follow. “Dirty Apple” lurches through a fender bass driven vamp, flanked by lock-step traps and even Person sounds remiss in his efforts to extricate himself the mire with mixed results. The group’s rendition of “The Days of Wine and Roses” launches into a dense Stax Soul Revue groove with Smith and Edwards working well in unison but again the ultimate outcome falls somewhat flat. Landrum’s bantam congas open things up rhythmically on “Ode to Billie Joe” and things seem to be looking up for awhile until Smith engulfs his coloful tone in a whitewash of syrupy sustain on the overly unctuous “Alfie.” The zesty version of Ray Charles “I Got A Woman” is one of the rare successes of the date due mainly to its length with allows the players to do more than simply play the changes.
Elementary R&B based song structures are the terrain on the second session too, but this time out Smith injects a bluesy inoculation into the arrangements that helps counteract some of the lassitude that plagued its predecessor. “Animal Farm” is perfect fodder for Person’s testifying tenor and Smith and the rhythm crew erect an inviting edifice to house the saxophonist’s soulful solos. Richardson has a swinging turn on his strings as well, before Person returns to blow things out. “Black Strap Molasses” works off a country twang and features both horns in a display of federated grooves. “She’s Gone Again” loses points for it’s awkward vocal breaks, but the group regains some lost footing on a laid-back version of “High Heeled Sneakers.” As it stands Smith’s soul flowers end up wilting under way to much watering at the hands of his unchecked enthusiasm and arrangements, but diehard groove enthusiasts will probably still find much to enjoy here.
Track Listing: Theme from N.Y.P.D./ Dirty Apple/ The Days of Wine and Roses/ Ode to Billie Joe/ You