by: Hobart Taylor
Dr. Lonnie Smith - Evolution - (Blue Note)
Blue Note is back with a vengeance. Since Don Was took over, he has re-signed many of the star acts from the label's past, now neglected grand masters and mistresses all, as well as developing new talent of similar caliber.
Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, (not to be confused with fellow keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith), was one of the progenitors of the "soul jazz" sound, working with George Benson in his pre-pop days, Blue Mitchell, King Curtis, Lee Morgan, and David "Fathead" Newman on several releases for Blue Note. Often ranked as the best Hammond B-3 player in critics polls for several years running, he has been scuffling along on independent labels since 1970. Now, backed by young Turks like trumpeter Keyon Harrold, tenor saxophonist John Ellis (check out his own release of New Orleans influenced music "Charm"), and super stars Robert Glasper and Joe Lovano this revisionist take on the soul jazz format is as compelling and alluring as the old classic sides, but has the Ginsu sharp edges of contemporary sensibilities, like the best of Kamasi Washington. With this release Blue Note hits the ground running.
Doug Carn - My Spirit - (Doodlin Records)
Doug Carn is one of those artists who provide connection between the deep roots of soul jazz and explorations into the nether worlds of improvisation. You may remember him on Earth Wind and Fire's initial releases or on the classic recordings done with his wife Jean Carn. In his new release he plays Hammond B-3
(which is to say keyboard leads and bass simultaneously) along with three of the Bay area's brightest young talents, saxophonists Howard Wiley and Teodross Avery and drummer Deszon Claiborne. Blues based with African style horn harmonies, the sweet perfume of funk wafts from both the covers (Sonny Stitt, Horace Silver, and Gene Ammons) and his own wonderful originals. Lee Morgan's tune "Mr. Kenyatta" and Carn's tunes "Chant" and especially the title tune, "My Spirit" are the stars of the disc, but it is all primo.
Clark Gibson and Orchestra - Bird With Strings: The Lost Arrangements - (blujazz)
One of the great controversies in jazz is how "accessible" does the genre need to be... how close to pop. Since most great jazz is not vocal music, a large portion of the audience falls off right away because songs are far more popular than instrumentals which require more attention in order to grasp their "meaning". Songs are shorter, usually carefully and semi-predictably arranged and or orchestrated, and contain limited or no improvisation. When pop tunes are presented without lyrics, they are usually covers of familiar hits so that the shallow footprints of the lyrical content remain traipsing across the listener's consciousness. That does not mean that jazz artists denigrate pop songs. To the contrary, check out all the Beatle, Radiohead, and Nirvana covers that proliferate on jazz releases, not to mention classics like Miles Davis' covers of "Time After Time" or the Disney tune "Someday My Prince Will Come". Charlie Parker realized that he could reach a mass audience by covering pop standards and collaborating with Norman Granz. He produced the best selling release of his lifetime, "Charlie Parker with Strings". The title is a bit of a misnomer because key to the sound are the accompaniment of Ray Brown and Bernie Leighton on piano and various oboists.
Chicago alto saxophonist Gibson dug up sides that were a part of a limited edition release entitled "The Jazz Scene" concurrent with the mass marketed versions of this style of orchestration during this period of Parker's recording career. This new iteration has a less syrupy tone in the strings, less sharply defined more loosely bound but coherent swing in the interpretations, and Gibson's own style in the performance, tone, and improvisations of the lead. He is not "Bird", but who the hell is? What Gibson brings to the table is pretty interesting in its own way. The result is both classical and reverent in it's historicity, and vibrant and of this moment as well. Highlights for me are Neal Hefti's tune "Repetition", "Gone with the Wind", "I Cover the Waterfront", "Gold Rush", "Scootin'", a really swinging "I've Got You Under My Skin", and my fave, "Ezz-thetic".
Jon Burr Quintet - Very Good Year - (jbQ Media)
New York bassist Burr leads a V.S.O.P. style quintet (kudos to the horns Tim Ouimette, trumpet, Steven Frieder, tenor sax) in a selection basically of originals (with three pop covers), that sound like they were revived sixties hits. It's a lot of fun. My picks, "All Things You Ate", "Soul Cry", "Cherry Keys", "Always Let Me Go", "Break Out The Blues" and "Savory Fare".. Note the food references in the titles. Burr also writes cookbooks!
Gabriel Mervine - People - (Synergy Music)
The sixties refuse to die. Here trumpeter Mervine pays homage to the Lee Morgan/ Clifford Brown/ Freddie Hubbard legacies with a crackerjack sextet recording, (standard quintet plus the incandescent Steve Kovalcheck on guitar). He kicks the disc off with a clean and loving rendition of Lee Morgan's "Somethin' Cute", Mervine continues with his own blues composition "You and I", (the soul jazz revival continues). Other hits include his "Blues for Jim", Donald Byrd's "Ghana" and a tender read of "You Don't Know What Love Is", a melody that always cuts me to the quick.