Some times heat can be an intense thing that engulfs everything instantaneously, other times it can be a slow burn that gradually consumes. With a more relaxed attitude and behind-the-beat approach, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith may understand both concepts but leans to the slow burn on Too Damn Hot! , his début recording for Palmetto Records. Surprisingly, this is only the 15th release under his own name since he emerged in the mid-'60s, although he has appeared on over 80 albums in a career that has included work with artists including George Benson and Lou Donaldson.
Splitting the drum duties between Greg Hutchinson and Fukushi Tainaka, Smith keeps things stripped-down and lean, with Rodney Jones providing some tasteful rhythm guitar and Peter Bernstein, who has worked extensively with Larry Goldings and consequently is no stranger to the organ trio, contributing some blues-drenched solo work.
But this is really Smith's show and, over the course of eight original tracks and two standards, he demonstrates how oftentimes one note or one chord is all that is necessary. On the New Orleans second line blues "Norleans" he fronts simple yet soulful lines that express so much with so little. And while Bernstein has the capacity for more chops-laden playing, under the watchful eye of Smith he plays equally economically, squeezing maximum effect out of every phrase. On the title track, which is the epitome of slow burna relaxed ballad that seems to simmer just beneath the surfaceSmith's concise lines are so behind the beat as to almost fall over; they make the body want to lean back, yet Smith always manages to keeps things upright. And on the aptly-titled "Back Track" Hutchinson plays a light hip hop-inflected rhythm that just succeeds in keeping its balance. Smith demonstrates that it is possible to maintain interest over the simplest vamp with the barest of ideas when one knows exactly where to position one's thoughts.
And just when you think that the album is going to be all soul and light swing, Smith pulls out "Track 9," which, with its insistency and fast walking bass line, is the most intense and adventurous piece on the record. Still, even on an up-tempo tune as this, Smith's solo is the definition of spare.
Smith clearly delineates his blend of approachable, groove-infected music from jazz of the more smooth variety by its lean nature. Some of Smith's material may go down very smoothly indeed, yet there's still some grit that gives it an edge. If some of the '60s soul jazz was progenitor to smooth jazz, clearly there is still a difference. As approachable as Too Damn Hot! is, it's not all about rounded edges and smooth surfaces. On "Your Mama's Got a Complex" Smith sings "She thinks she's hot but she's not" over a greasy groove that would quickly frighten away the contemporary jazz faction. Listenable, yes; but Too Damn Hot! is also all about attitude, something that Smith has aplenty.
Track Listing: Norleans; Too Damn Hot; Black Track; The Whip; Silver Serenade; Track 9; One Cylinder; SOmeday My Prince Will Come; Your Mama's Got a Complex; Evil Turn
Personnel: Dr. Lonnie Smith (organ), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Rodney Brown (rhythm guitar), Greg Hutchinson (drums on "Norleans," "Back Track," "Track 9," "Love Cylinder," "Your Mama's Got a Complex"), Fukushi Tainaka (drums on all other tracks)