When compared to his Blue Note catalog, Jimmy Smith's Verve records have a reputation for being commercial. Despite artistic triumphs like Hobo Flats
(1963), The Cat
(1964), Peter & The Wolf
(1966) and Bluesmith
(1972), it could hardly get more commercial than these two albums, Got My Mojo Workin'
from 1965 and Hoochie Coochie Man
from 1966. Both albums contain an abundance of Smith's gutteral grunting and occasional raspy-voiced vocalizing (a weird combination of Keith Jarrett's moans and Muddy Waters' groans) and a program of rock cover tunes, well-known blues standards and contemporary big-band jazz. But Smith's organ grinding is faultless, swinging and when he solos, all is forgiven. The best of the material here is the four small-group tracks from Mojo
, "Hi-Heel Sneakers" and "Mustard Greens" especially, where Smith's clever lines are ignited by Kenny Burrell's sterling guitar work.
Unfortunately, Oliver Nelson's arrangements often seem imposed as an afterthought on the rest of the material. By the time you get to the Hoochie Coochie Man music, things get a bit brassier. A harmonica consistently reinforces the blues orientation, but the goal is to crossover, much as Nelson's Impulse record Oliver Nelson Plays Michelle (recorded two months earlier) attempted. Again, when Smith solos, he rocks. The one magical moment here occurs on Nelson's intricate and evocative "Blues and the Abstract Truth." The song itself, first heard on Nelson's 1964 disc More Blues and the Abstract Truth , gets a marvelous workout here, due in no small measure to the energy and wit Smith invests in his straight-ahead abilities. Although this new twofer disc is correctly aimed at the acid-jazz crowd, it'd be nice, however, if Verve also brought back into circulation something like Peter & The Wolf , a much better document of the inspiration and invention of the collaborations between Jimmy Smith and Oliver Nelson.