Reissued from four albums, Columbia's 2-CD set reveals all the energy and large-scale production effort that was placed into Lonnie Liston Smith's work from 1978-80. Two that had not before been released on CD, Love Is The Answer and A Song For The Children, as well as Exotic Mysteries and Loveland, reflect the funk attitude that scored big time in the '70s and rivaled disco as the popular beat of the decade. Smith is a lyrical pianist who surrounds himself with sounds to thrill an audience. From Brazilian birdcalls and samba whistles to swirling vocal choirs and skip-hopping strings, his accompaniment stirs the fires of excitement. He balances the up side of each program with cool, romantic episodes meant to provide a contrasting spark. Wordless vocals and pop lyrics express a mystical mood: smooth all the way through, from start to finish. Smith's large-scale smooth jazz marked a turning point of sorts. Radio stations from all over realized that they could couple Nature's music with intimate R&B anthems and provide pleasurable sounds that would allow their listeners to escape from rush hour traffic or other echoes of a hectic workday. Smith gave them numerous examples. One tune from A Song For The Children, "Fruit Music," was left off this compilation for timing reasons.
"Explorations" contains an interesting brass chorale introduction that resembles what Blood, Sweat and Tears had done before. Dave Hubbard's sweet soprano saxophone and Ronald Miller's blazing guitar pump adrenalin into the number, making it quite apart from most of what Smith had been doing. It's a high point that none of Smith's other selections come close to approaching. Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith joins the pianist for "On the Real Side," as the two challenge each other in a warm-up match. Doc Powell converses with Smith on "Free and Easy" with an amiable, smooth jazz spirit. Otherwise, the compilation, while keeping the fires lit for two and a half hours, provides ample reminders of Lonnie Listen Smith's knack for creating jazz that remains both rhythmically funky and lyrically smooth.