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Jimmy Smith: Plays Fats Waller

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Fats Waller, whose rollicking contributions have enlivened the American songbook since the 1930s, once wrote, "Well, I really love the organ. I can get so much color from it than the piano that it really sends me." About a generation later, Jimmy Smith fell in love with the Hammond B-3 organ.

Here in the company of guitarist Quentin Warren and drummer Donald Bailey (both of whom played on every Smith trio recording for five decades), the latter pays tribute to the former. Smith offers very little melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic improvisation, and seems to place some of Waller's most recognized and playful melodies behind airtight protective glass, museum pieces to be admired but not played with. Smith glides through "Everybody Loves My Baby" and neatly tucks in every edge and corner of "Squeeze Me"—too neatly, almost clinically.

Smith recites "Ain't She Sweet" using chord swells and inflections that only the Hammond B-3 can produce and adorns "Lulu's Back in Town" in slightly new, slightly blue, threads before setting her off on a finger-snapping melodic stroll. Sections of "Honeysuckle Rose" intimate jazz and blues, but no more than that; in "Rose" and "Ain't Misbehavin,'" Smith swirls around rippling phrases to create sparkling, liquid pools of melody.

But the beat and tempo remain almost constant throughout, and for the most part it seems fairly obvious that Smith sets his engine running, tunes it a bit, then coasts downhill through every tune. What seems much less obvious is how Jimmy Smith Plays Fats Waller could bring together two of the most flamboyant if not wild characters in the history of jazz organ, yet still result in music so boring and uninspired.

Track Listing: Everybody Loves My Baby; Squeeze Me; Ain't She Sweet; Ain't Misbehavin'; Lulu's Back in Town; Honeysuckle Rose; I've Found A New Baby.

Personnel: Jimmy Smith: organ; Quentin Warren: guitar; Donald Bailey: drums.

Title: Plays Fats Waller | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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