Johnny "Hammond" Smith: The Soulful Blues
Smith was one of many in a long line of second tier Soul Jazz organists that flourished during the instrument’s stratospheric ascendancy during the 1960s. Appropriately titled, this disc delves generously into two sides of Smith’s oeuvre. The first session focuses prominently on Soul and R&B hits from the era touching on the songbooks of Ben E. King and others. While the material isn’t the most constructive to imaginative improvisation the solid crew of sidemen on hand enables Smith to move beyond the pedestrian most of the time. Person and Jones make a complimentary front-line whether stoking a smoking groove on “The Sin-In” or working through laidback changes on “Ebb Tide.” Harris’ drums are shade metronomic most of the time, but the added punch of Lewis’ funky Fender loosens things up. As the final cog in the groove machine Thornel Schwartz (whose claim to fame was as serving a stint as Jimmy Smith’s guitarist) sticks mainly to a supportive capacity but also sculpts the occasional edifice up front. As for Smith, there’s more than a little roller-rink in his sound much of the time, but his fingers are fleet behind the keys and he makes adroit use of his pedals.
The second session dwindles the group down into a leaner, meaner quartet while retaining Person and switching to a less groove-dominated songbook. Hard bop classics like “If I Were A Bell” and “Song For My Father” stand beside original tunes like “Nasty” and “Four Bowls of Soup” and the majority of arrangements stretch out allowing for plenty of chordal improvisation. Abercrombie’s work here is a far cry from the exploratory tack he would take in the 70s and into the present, but he shows that his fluid string agility was in place even at this youthful stage of his career. Tate and Person also fit well into Smith’s more economical designs and the quartet breezes through the material with an appealing attention to subtle details and swing. Tate’s traps in particular provide a propulsive and constantly varied underpinning for much of the action to unfold atop, though they are plagued by some static on the funky shuffle “Nasty.”
Smith recorded a deluge of records for Prestige, but the dates gathered on this disc reside near the top of his prolific catalog. Listeners with an affection for skillfully rendered Soul Jazz will almost certainly be pleased by the generous amount of music available in this single, convenient package.
Track Listing: The Sin-In/ Stand By Me/ Knock On Wood/ The Soulful Blues/ Ebb Tide/ Summertime/ Getting