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Dr. Lonnie Smith The Hammond B-3 Lion Roars, Backed by His Pride

Published: 2011-01-01
Dr. Lonnie Smith The organist Dr. Lonnie Smith played with his new big band for the first time on Tuesday night at Jazz Standard, and you know what they say about a big band on its first night: don't go.

Hear it after it's settled a little, when its sound untangles, and the arrangements become refined. Give the soloists time to figure out what roles they will play, how to control themselves within the whole. Let a scene develop too: big bands sound best encircled by returning customers.

The organist Dr. Lonnie Smith leading his new big band through a musical stew seasoned with funk and ballads at Jazz Standard. But after only two rehearsals, the 14-piece band, directed by the trombonist Corey King, sounded superfine. What I heard operated on two settings: nasty funk and wine-dark ballads. That was enough. The band runs from tuba to flute, with trumpets, trombones and saxophones in between; it sometimes merges three different low-end lines, from tuba, acoustic bass and Dr. Smith's organ foot-pedals. It's got an aggressive rhythm section, with the drummer Jamire Williams, the bassist Vicente Archer and the guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, wielding cutting backbeats and shred guitar.

In original tunes like “Beehive" and “Play It Back," a song Dr. Smith has been performing for at least 40 years—hear it on his 1970 record “Live at Club Mozambique"—the band cruised through James Brown-style rhythms and vamps, soloists working against a wriggling wall of sound. Crucially, the rhythm-section players followed Dr. Smith's example by ducking and diving, changing up tone and rhythm, keeping the music bubbling through slow numbers and fast songs with not a lot of chord changes.


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