If you're ignorant like I was, you may have thought that A New Sound, A New Star
featured the very first Jimmy Smith recordings. But actually he recorded a number of singles a few years before that for the obscure Bruce label. The fact that these early recordings have been out of print for forty years is surprising, given the insatiable appetite of Smith fans for his work. But Empiremusicwerks has recently reissued these early tracks, giving us a glimpse into the evolution of the man who invented the Hammond B-3 sound.
However, don't expect the churning, fiery organ playing of Smith's Blue Note years. He was still in the thrall of Wild Bill Davidson and sticks mainly with a locked-hands approach, instead of the dazzling runs and blasts of noise that would make his patented style so appealing. On these early recordings Smith was starting to take the basic sound of organ jazz from the church hymn and silent movie origins that plagued many of its early practitioners.
All the ingredients are here for a classic Smith setup: guitar, sax, and drums. But the soloists lack the excitement of later Smith collaborators like Kenny Burrell and Stanley Turrentine that would turn them into classics of the genre. Also many of the tracks feature vocals, an approach which was largely abandoned, and for good reason. But there's no denying that Smith found his groove in a very short time. "Dancing On the Ceiling, one of the later tracks, shows Smith beginning to emerge with the style that he would perfect and take to the bank on dozens of subsequent records.
Although on these tracks Smith isn't "incredible yet, there's an undeniable appeal in hearing an artist's first work. Smith fans will no doubt lap it up, but for others a little organ jazz probably goes a long way. Those who have a passing fancy for it may want to stick with their copies of Groovin' At Small's Paradise and The Sermon instead.
Personnel: Jimmy Smith - organ; Al Cass - tenor saxophone; Don Gardner - vocals, drums; unknown others.