Album Review: Dr Lonnie Smith – All In My Mind (Blue Note)

Soul soothing music

Dr Lonnie Smith is neither a doctor nor a Sikh, apparently he took up both affectations “for no particular reason”, but the turban does help him stand out from the crowd of like named organists. This is not soul jazz warrior Lonnie Liston Smith, this Lonnie Smith is a long time proponent of the Hammond B3 organ, the instrument with which is he made his first album way back in the day. He first made the New York soul jazz scene alongside George Benson in the guitarist’s quartet and released his debut Finger Lickin’ Good in 1967. Since that time Smith has worked with most of the big names on the jazz scene as well as recording tributes to Jimi Hendrix and Beck.

2016 saw Smith return to Blue Note with the Don Was produced Evolution and the same producer has come back for the first interesting release of 2018. All In My Mind is a live recording so how much influence a producer can have save picking the key tracks is a moot point. It features Smith’s working trio of Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jonathan Blake on drums, bass being provided by the keyboard. A second drummer, Joe Dyson joins for one track as does singer Alicia Olatuja whose performance enlivens the title track. Recorded last year at the Jazz Standard in New York this is an atmospheric recording with plenty of audience appreciation if not quite the depth found in the best live releases. What you do get is the cohesion and energy of the live event, and with a trio that’s as well honed as this that’s a lot of groove power.

The set opens with Wayne Shorter’s Juju, a piece that allows Smith to showcase the warm smokey side of the shape shifting B3, the modal vibe gives way to a splashy drum solo that is controlled yet energetic, before cruising out on keys and guitar. Devilka allows Kreisberg to lay down some lovely subtle and atmospheric guitar, the tone of his instrument shining through the slightly thick sounding mix. He swaps leads with Smith and the two switch to a very smooth vibe before the next tune; Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. This seems a slightly cheesy choice but one that this band makes its own in style. Here the drum duties are handed over to Joe Dyson who brings a snap to the rhythm that’s very engaging. The piece works up a good head of steam in the final third and ends on a tight, low key drum solo that works a treat.

Smith’s Alhambra is one of two nine minute plus numbers and features what sounds so much like a mute trumpet that it’s surprising to discover it originates from the organ. It could be Miles himself! It’s a subtle and intrigueing intro that leads into an intense track where things get pretty wild. The title track is an old Smith composition that’s greatly enhanced by Olatuja’s remarkably broad vocal skills and lyrics that make it feel fresh and relevant in Trump’s America.

All In My Mind proves that age is no barrier to musical relevance, Dr Lonnie Smith may not be qualified to administer medical aid but he has the power to soothe the soul, and that’s sometimes more important.

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