Organ-ized: It's Magic, Blues for C & Jungle Soul


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Barbara Dennerlein
It's Magic

Chester E. Smith
Blues for C
Lifeforce Jazz

Dr. Lonnie Smith
Jungle Soul

The Hammond organ has had a fascinating history in jazz. Fats Waller and Count Basie played it with great style and aplomb but it was not until many years later that the instrument caught on in a huge way. Jimmy Smith was a dynamic virtuoso who took the blues and other popular forms and knocked them silly on the organ. Audiences were overwhelmed by the sheer power and volume of his playing, but some of the players who followed approached the instrument with more subtlety.

Barbara Dennerlein has been playing for 25 years and though there is no shortage of power in the music she writes or plays, the overall effect is one of intimate communication. She knows the jazz vocabulary and she's heard and played the blues, but there's much more than those in her work. It's Magic celebrates ten years of her duo work with drummer/percussionist Daniel Messina and it's a nearly 80-minute concert of music that is chock full of color, personality, wit and charm. The influence of Dennerlein's entire world oeuvre is present here - from Smith himself in the funky "Swing the Blondes , "The Long Way Blues and "Make it Spicy - to a Coltrane-ish vamp in "Rankett Blues . Along the way there's an almost minimalist feel in the 13-minute "Change of Pace and a spiritual world music sound in the wordless vocals and instrumentals on "Longing . This is a rich, heady mix of sound - technically accomplished and emotionally communicative.

Chester E. Smith is no relation to James Oscar but this is definitely Jimmy's world. Chester E. uses some electronics that Jimmy might not have cared for, but here it's all about expressive capability. Chester shares a Philadelphia area background that comes with a deep sense of soul and the blues. This session was produced in San Jose, Calif. by saxophonist Dawan Muhammad (he also wrote the closer "Blues in the Twilight Zone ) and from start to finish it works on the kinds of grooves of the best organ albums. The tune selections highlight the writing of keyboard players - Billy Strayhorn, Ellington, McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Joe Zawinul and Thelonious (egregiously misspelled "Thelonius here) Monk and each of the piano compositions is given a treatment that's colored by expressive use of electronic effects and fine horn work by Red Holloway (tenor), David Halliday (tenor and alto), Mike Olmos (trumpet) and Muhammad. Smith has listened to and absorbed classic sounds from the '60s thru the '80s but he sends them back out with both the essence of the tradition and some new colors. For example, on "Nica's Dream the bebop rhythms and melody are deeply felt, but the organ gives it a new, darker sensibility.

It might be said that the good doctor is reaching out to 'jam band' fans on his new Jungle Soul, but Dr. Lonnie Smith is simply making the kind of soulful, feel-good music that has defined his entire playing career. Buoyed by a band that includes Peter Bernstein (guitar), Allison Miller (drums) and label founder Matt Balitsaris (rhythm and acoustic guitars), Smith brings the mantle of no-nonsense, blues-based jazz into another generation. The album slips into first gear with the Marvin Gaye tune "Trouble Man . Lonnie's B-3 finds the dark, sexy allure of the title character and takes off from the main riff. Miller pushes the groove forward with power as well as subtlety and Bernstein digs down into the kind of playing that brought Wes Montgomery to a wider audience. Smith's solo is a simple model of blues understanding and personal story-telling. The band 'jams' on tunes by Frank Foster ("Simone ), Eddie Harris ("Freedom Jazz Dance ) and Monk ("Bemsha Swing ) in addition to some appealingly exotic and typically beautiful originals by the leader, finding the dance funk in the Harris tune with some colorful drum accents from Miller and also bringing out the ebony mystery that sits in the Monk tune. All of these players can burn - and often do - but this album is about telling good stories.

Tracks and Personnel

It's Magic

Tracks: In The House; Longing; Swing The Blondes; Change Of Pace; The Long Way Blues; Make It Spicy; Rankett Blues.

Personnel: Barbara Dennerlein: hammond organ/footpedals, synthesizers; Daniel Messina: drums, percussion, vocals..

Blues for C

Tracks: Blues for 'C'; Lush LIfe; Cookin; It Don't Mean a Thing; Hippadelphia; Blues On The Corner; Nica's Dream; The Breakdown; Ask Me Now; Blues in the Twilight Zone.

Personnel: Chester E. Smith: organ; Red Holloway, David Halliday, Dawan Muhammad: saxophone; Mike Olmos: trumpet; Calvin Keys: guitar; Charles Smith, Donald Bailey: drums; Tacuma King: percussion.

Jungle Soul

Tracks: Trouble Man; Simone; Jungle Soul; Willow Weep for Me; Freedom Jazz Dance; Blue Moment; Witch Doctor; Bemsha Swing; Zimbabwe; Jungle Wisdom..

Personnel: Dr. Lonnie Smith: organ; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Allison Miller: drums; Matt Balitsaris: guitar.

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