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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Rise Up!

Douglas Payne By

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When the Hammond B-3 organ enjoyed a revival several years ago, few came out the better for it. The old guys either repeated or tried to recapture what they'd done before and too few of the new guys had anything new to say. But then there was Lonnie Smith.

This veteran of '60s organ combos, the genre's golden age, quietly returned to the scene in the early '90s, sporting a turban and a new prefix to his name. He seemed reborn, he wasn't regurgitating what he'd done like so many of the others. He was working a whole new groove and making some of the best music of his career.

On the masterly Rise Up!, Dr. Lonnie Smith proves he just keeps getting better. This survivor—one of the few that's left—proves that good groove is good groove and there's no need to repeat one's self to matter. This disc, his third for the Palmetto label, continues the organist's winning streak of musical exploration.

Driven on by guitarist Peter Bernstein, who also enlivened Smith's previous two Palmetto dates, Smith delivers interesting melodies and especially commanding solos laced with melodic, clever phrasing. Making an inspired addition to this set is former Jazz Messenger Donald Harrison on alto sax, who hadn't work with the doctor since their pairing on The Chartbuster's Mating Call (Prestige, 1995). Truly one of the best and most undervalued players of his generation, Harrison hasn't done many organ dates, which seems odd, considering how at home he is here.

Rise Up! boasts a high quotient of Smith's lean and mean originals, including "A Matterapat," the gospel groove of "Pilgrimage," "Dapper Dan," the funereal funk of "And The World Weeps" (featuring the organist's most commanding solo on the disc) and the swampy, yet strangely too brief "Voodoo Doll."

Smith's choice of covers is, as always, as interesting and unpredictable as the way he delivers them. First up is The Beatles' "Come Together," which gets a trippy funk take not unlike the preaching Smith has done elsewhere on covers of Hendrix and Zappa. The Stylistics' '72 hit "People Make the World Go Round" gets more of a muscular foundation here than is often heard. Larry Young's "Tyrone" gets another reading by Smith, who previously played it on Richie Hart's Greasy Street (Zoho, 2005), exchanging the Blue Note formality of the original for a New Orleans-styled party romp which sets Harrison off magnificently. Oddest of all is Smith's cover of The Eurythmics' '83 hit "Sweet Dreams," although it's redeemed by Smith's rethink of the song as a slow blues, launching him into one of the most intense, dramatic solos on the disc.

There are many such worthy moments here. Rise Up! finds the good doctor in top form, fleet and flexible on the one hand, intrepid and intriguing on the other. Few players manage so winningly to engage with expert playing and a good sense of humor. Rise Up! indeed rises to the occasion.


Track Listing: A Matterapat; Come Together; Pilgrimage; Dapper Dan; And The World Weeps; People Make The World Go Round; Tyrone; Sweet Dreams; Voodoo Doll.

Personnel: Dr. Lonnie Smith: Hammond organ, vocals; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Donald Harrison: alto saxophone; Herlin Riley: drums; Jo Lawry: vocals (5); James Shipp: percussion (2, 3, 4, 6, 9); Matt Balitsaris: guitar (1, 2, 6, 8).

Title: Rise Up! | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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