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Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Hargrove at New Morning

Patricia Myers By

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Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Hargrove
New Morning
Paris, France
July 23, August 1, 2014

Among the nightly summer concerts staged at New Morning in Paris was a double dose of electronic funk and neo-soul sounds by multi-keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Each played to capacity audiences on humid nights that challenged the air-conditioning system of the spacious no-frills hall.

Smith, 73, standing in front of the stage at an elevated electronic two-keyboard rack, was armed with a rhythm section of three young musicians plus a female vocalist. For this European tour, he revived the Cosmic Echoes name of his 1973-85 aggregations. Both sets were strongly predicated on elements of the post-bop and fusion of those decades. The same driving energy was created, with the added rudiments of funk and soul that have resulted in Smith's older music being sampled in recordings by 21st-century hip-hop and urban pop stars Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige.

Smith had played in the 1960s-70s bands of Miles Davis, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Pharoah Sanders, and he also provided keyboard work on Davis' recording of On The Corner LP (1972, Columbia Records). In this concert, he proved that he's lost none of his adventurous spirit, choosing charts that exposed the full range of his invention, from exultant to melancholic, boisterous to celestial.

The playlist included his love-lyric, smooth-jazz oeuvré "A Garden of Peace" and the similarly themed "Starlight and You." He told the audience that he wrote the funk-full "Summer Nights" while sitting in New York's Central Park. He later excerpted from his ongoing global-message repertoire with the soul jazz of "A Chance for Peace" and "Expansions/Expand Your Mind."

Drummer Lee Pearson, who also tours with Spyro Gyra, was a crowd favorite via his polyrhythmic prowess and explosive solos. He and the leader fueled the synergy of the blazing blurs executed by electric guitarist Samir Moulay against the supple sequences of electric bassist Scott Ambush. Although vocalist Tabitha Pearson (Lee's sister) demonstrated an impressive range, her delivery lacked depth and balance, too often overpowered by the instrumentation from low mic volume.

As expected, trumpeter Roy Hargrove brought his full compendium of neo-bop and Afro-Cuban rhythmic invention, swinging bebop spiced by a funky undercurrent and thrilling explosive elements. The 44-year-old trumpeter has played New Morning annually since 2006, most often with his RH Factor ensemble. This touring quintet featured superb alto saxophonist Justin Robertson, who evinced the spirit of Charlie Parker, with more than a bit of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley/Eric Dolphy ingenuity and facility.

Throughout two sets, the two horn players dueted or zigged-zagged as if playing a tandem sport, now accelerating the melody, then shifting into slow-swing mode. Pianist Sullivan Fortner used his solo space to get into new dimensions, alternately pouncing on and riffling the keyboard, then delivering in a rhapsodic mood. Acoustic bassist Ameen Saleem solidly secured the foundation, and his solos further stretched the hard-driving groove.

Although I missed hearing the memorable style of Hargrove's longtime drummer Willie Jones III from previous Paris appearances, Quincy Phillips fashioned inventive moves that propelled and motivated the aggregation.

The slender Hargrove, nattily attired in a white suit with trademark bow-tie, played fast and hot, with Roberts deftly taking on the melody thread with rivulets of 32nd notes. The band seemed to delight in multiple and rapid tempo changes that worked well and never sounded abrupt. Hargrove twice employed a Harman mute, and switched twice to flugelhorn, coaxing ballad nuances from its warm tone that contrasted the crisp power of his open-trumpet work. Hargrove also offered two vocals, both of the old-school hits, "Never Let Me Go" and "You're My Everything," sung simply and sweetly in his clear baritone.

An extensive reworking of the changes of the George Gershwin gem, "Fascinating Rhythm," was a zestful post- modernized foray, while the band's treatment of "Little Sunflower" was as golden-hued as the title. After two hours of music with a brief intermission, European-style syncopated audience-clapping was rewarded by two more high-energy charts.

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