Last Call Review: Dr. Lonnie Smith / In The Beginning Volumes 1 & 2 / Pilgrimage

Nov 1, 2013

Dr. Lonnie Smith's Hammond B-3 wizardry has dazzled this listener for years. Smith's first live recording on his own Pilgrimage imprint, The Healer, was a deeply powerful organ trio experience. On the new release,  In The Beginning Volumes 1 & 2,  the liner notes declare that "Dr. Lonnie Smith revisits, recontextualizes and reimagines a dozen songs from his first decade as a recording artist."

Smith's recording career began in the 1960s, when he was the organist for George Benson's quartet on several albums. Smith's first recording as a leader, Finger Lickin' Good, was made in 1966. Recording dates followed with saxophonist Lou Donaldson on several history making Blue Note recordings, including Alligator Boogaloo.  This led to the organist receiving his own recording contract with Blue Note,  which led to the soul jazz classics Think!, Turning Point, Move Your Hand, and Live at Club Mozambique.

For In The Beginning Volumes 1 & 2, Dr. Lonnie Smith returns with an Octet of top-flight jazz musicians: Dr. Lonnie Smith on Hammond B3 organ and vocals is joined by Ed Cherry, guitar; Jonathan Blake, drums; Little Johnny Rivero, congas; Andy Gravish, trumpet;  Ian Hendrickson-Smith,  alto sax and flute; John Ellis, tenor sax, bass clarinet and Jason Marshall, baritone sax.

The artistry throughout is sublime. The octet is taken to full throttle on "Turning Point", encouraged by Smith's relentless organ.  "In The Beginning" starts with a cosmic crescendo from Smith before becoming a mellow ballad. The Hammond B-3 master provides vocalizations and organ fireworks that are accompanied by the horns in a very tight groove on "Move Your Hand".  On the hard swinging number "Call of the Wild" featured players include Gravish making a strong statement along with Rivero's congas with Smith at the middle of a swirl of enchanting sound.

This is an excellent live date, including two discs of music recorded last year in New York. It is indeed the next best thing to being there.  I witnessed with Dr. Lonnie Smith at the Iowa City Jazz Festival in July, 2013. Leading a trio for the engagement, Smith at times created crescendos of emotion through intensely funky and at times stellar musical statements.  His seemingly limitless technique and dynamic trio entertained a appreciative audience of all ages for several hours.

The good doctor of all things Hammond B-3 is scheduled to perform at several stops in the midwest during the next year, performing in Omaha at the 1200 Club at the Holland in 2014. 

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(Photo credit:Chris Cooke)