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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Rise Up!

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For a half-century the incomparable Dr. Lonnie Smith has been a prime mover on the organ, an instrument he has called, paradoxically, "the monster" and "the love of my life." Rise Up! is a gumbo of originals and covers spiced with generous helpings of rhythm and blues, rock and gospel.

Smith's "A Matterapat" showcases Donald Harrison's sharp alto sax and Peter Bernstein's feathery guitar riffs, with Smith's organ going straight to the gut. "Tyrone" is a New Orleans strut that Smith and Harrison play in deep blue shades. The dark, simmering brew of "Voodoo Doll" finds Smith pulsating at the low end of the monster while James Shipp's percussion and Matt Balitsaris' sweet guitar highlight a comparatively straight reading of the Stylistics' "People Make the World Go Round." Herlin Riley's solemn drum rolls introduce "And the World Weeps," a march both funereal and military, enhanced by Jo Lawry's melancholy vocalizing. Smith was raised on gospel, and the perfect tone and pitch of his Sunday morning organ drives the ascendant "Pilgrimage." Smith uses a tangential approach to classic rock songs to translate them into his unique idiom, funking up the rhythm and tempo of "Come Together" and intoning the idea of the lyrics with gravelly vocals. His take on the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" turns its theme of the search for sexual fulfillment into an ironic dirge, a reluctant march to the bedroom.

Smith has spoken frequently about how difficult it is to play the Hammond B-3; watching him during a record release party last month at New York's The Jazz Standard, however, belied any suspicion of hardship. Smith opened the set with an ominous sci-fi overture that elicited a mock frightened expression from the scholarly-looking Riley. A few minutes later, though, he and Smith had a wonderfully intense mano a mano, during which they pushed each other to the limit. Bernstein played a fluid, octave-rich guitar on "Tyrone," and the pleasant surprise of "Sweet and Lovely" featured an incendiary solo by Smith. The version of "Pilgrimage" transported the downtown crowd uptown for Friday night church services.

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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