All About Jazz

Home » Articles » My Blue Note Obsession

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Dr. Lonnie Smith: Dr. Lonnie Smith: Then and Now – Think! (1968) vs Evolution (2016)

Marc Davis By

Sign in to view read count
If you liked Lonnie Smith back in the day, you’ll appreciate and enjoy his evolution to 2016.
Enter the album name hereThe "doctor" with the mysterious turban and manic Hammond B-3 fingers is back. And if you think the old man at 73 can't possibly match the passion and pyrotechnics of the young man at 26... well, surprise!

Evolution is Dr. Lonnie Smith's triumphant return to Blue Note. I feared it might be like a Beatles "reunion" of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr—a sentimental experiment that's bound to disappoint. I bought Evolution and resigned myself to liking Smith's younger bandmates and pining for the days of yore.

I was wrong.

For this experiment, I played two Smith albums back to back, several times. I picked what is arguably his best record: Think! It's his Blue Note debut of 1968, when Smith wore love beads and before he became a "doctor." Then I played the new Lonnie Smith record to see how it compared.

Listening to Think! is pure pleasure—and not just for nostalgic reasons. It is inspired music. The opening cut, Hugh Masekela's "Son of Ice Bag" is a high-energy 11-minute soul-funk workout. It's followed by "The Call of the Wild," 12 minutes of freaky, hot-and-heavy Afro-Cuban rhythms and grooves. And then the title cut—yes, it's the Aretha Franklin hit song, given a groovy organ-jazz treatment.

If Think! ended there, it would be an unforgettable (but short) Blue Note classic. But wait, as they say on TV; there's more.

Track 4 is a six-minute improvisation on—would you believe it?—"Three Blind Mice." (I know what you're thinking: "Three Blind Mice" has chord changes? I was surprised, too.) And finally, another amazing Latin workout on a Smith original called "Slouchin.'"

And that's it. Think! is one wild and hairy soul-funk-jazz classic.

Fast forward nearly 50 years.

Enter the album name here Evolution starts where Think! left off, with a long funk-jazz jam called "Play It Back," featuring Robert Glasper on piano, a bunch of hot horns and the good doctor laying down impressive grooves. "Afrodesia" is another fat funkfest, this time featuring Joe Lovano's horn. (The only down note of the album is Track 3, a smooth jazz tune that is better left unheard.)

And then Evolution lives up to its name. First, there's an inspired take on Thelonious Monk's classic "Straight No Chaser," with a simple organ-guitar-drums trio playing anything but simply. The same trio tackles "My Favorite Things," but this is not your grandfather's Richard Rodgers, or even John Coltrane's. It is something utterly different and intriguing.

Finally, a pair of tunes that truly show the doctor's evolution. "Talk About This" starts with a hip-hop vibe and vocal that would have been impossible in 1968, then segues into a slow funky vamp. But it's the last tune, "African Suite," that clinches it for me —a piece that is utterly unlike anything else on the album, or any other album. "African Suite" is a 10- minute slice of African percussion, elephant trumpets and a sweet flute. Nothing about the funk-heavy Lonnie Smith of 1968 suggests he was capable of this. It's a joy.

Bottom line: If you liked Lonnie Smith back in the day, you'll appreciate and enjoy his evolution to 2016. It makes me wonder what new tricks he'll find at age 74.


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read My Fats Waller Obsession: Why Do We Collect Music? My Blue Note Obsession
My Fats Waller Obsession: Why Do We Collect Music?
by Marc Davis
Published: May 31, 2017
Read Ike Quebec: Blue & Sentimental - 1962 My Blue Note Obsession
Ike Quebec: Blue & Sentimental - 1962
by Marc Davis
Published: May 14, 2017
Read Jack Wilson: Something Personal – 1966 My Blue Note Obsession
Jack Wilson: Something Personal – 1966
by Marc Davis
Published: May 1, 2017
Read Ronnie Foster: Two Headed Freap – 1973 My Blue Note Obsession
Ronnie Foster: Two Headed Freap – 1973
by Marc Davis
Published: April 18, 2017
Read Bud Powell: The Scene Changes - 1958 My Blue Note Obsession
Bud Powell: The Scene Changes - 1958
by Marc Davis
Published: April 4, 2017
Read Walter Davis Jr.: Davis Cup - 1959 My Blue Note Obsession
Walter Davis Jr.: Davis Cup - 1959
by Marc Davis
Published: March 21, 2017
Read "Diane Schuur at Birdland" Live Reviews Diane Schuur at Birdland
by Tyran Grillo
Published: November 20, 2017
Read "Hal Willner's Rock 'n' Rota" Interviews Hal Willner's Rock 'n' Rota
by Ludovico Granvassu
Published: July 26, 2018
Read "10 Most Downloaded Tracks: 2017" Best of / Year End 10 Most Downloaded Tracks: 2017
by Michael Ricci
Published: December 31, 2017
Read "David Sancious: From Monk to Sting" Interviews David Sancious: From Monk to Sting
by Luca Muchetti
Published: June 8, 2018
Read "John Abercrombie Remembered" Profiles John Abercrombie Remembered
by Dave Allen
Published: November 4, 2017
Read "Rossano Sportiello Trio at The Jazz Corner" Live Reviews Rossano Sportiello Trio at The Jazz Corner
by Martin McFie
Published: January 20, 2018