With all due respect to organ royalty such as Milt Buckner, Shirley Davis, Wild Bill Davis, Bill Doggett, Brother Jack McDuff, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Larry Young, Hammond B3 innovator Jimmy Smith remains the instrument’s reigning sovereign. Over a four-decade career of playing with some of jazz’s best—Ray Barretto, George Benson, Art Blakey, Tina Brooks, Kenny Burrell, John Coltrane, Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, Wes Montgomery, Lee Morgan, Oliver Nelson, Zoot Sims, Grady Tate, Clark Terry, Stanley Turrentine, Phil Woods—Jimmy Smith has forged a keyboard sound apart.
Jazz or blues, Smith plays an articulate combination of left-hand power chords and scorching, bebop-inspired right-hand solos over the foot pedals’ relentless walking bass lines; nobody else achieves his punchy, penetrating sonic texture on the B3. And confirming his chops with Dot Com Blues, his first new release in five years, Smith retains the mantle of the definitive jazz organ stylist, and the singular inspiration for countless garden-variety blues-funk bands the world around.
The core session group consists of Smith, Reggie McBride (bass guitar), Harvey Mason (drums) and Russell Malone (guitar), who cook on five soul-jazz instrumentals, including the classic “C.C. Rider”, a laid-back “Mood Indigo”, and three Smith originals: the ironic musical understatement of the title track, a reflective “Tuition Blues”, and “Eight Counts for Rita”, which invokes the feel of a strutting “Down by the Riverside”.
Piano ace Dr. John co-wrote a sixth instrumental with Smith, “Mr. Johnson”, wherein the funk physician summons up a sashaying Crescent City groove against Smith’s vamping, warbling B3 and the pointillist guitar work of producer John Porter and session wizard Phil Upchurch, all basted with the sizzling fatback sound of the Texicali Horns. The Horns do likewise on the album opener, as Dr. John sings over an inimitable piano romp on his own composition, “Only in It for the Money”, shuffling between Smith’s high-flying comping and a blaring wall of brass.
As if that were not enough, scattered among the instrumental gems are knockout turns by four other blues masters, Etta James, B.B. King, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. Etta steps in with a sassy, seductive take on the Willie Dixon classic, “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”. She enjoys sublime backing by Was (Not Was) vocalists Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens, and once more, the tasteful ornamentation of the Texicali Horns. The latter return with simmering effect on Keb’ Mo’s self-composed down-and-out blues, “Over and Over”. The ageless B.B. King turns in a signature vocal and guitar performance on his standard “Three O’Clock Blues”, and Taj Mahal inject his unmistakable country blues magic on a loping, self-penned “Strut”, spiced with a superb Malone guitar solo.
In sum, Smith—who recently turned 76—remains in top form, supported by a tight band, a superb roster of studio musicians, and a stellar guest lineup, re-mapping the soulful territory between jazz and blues that he knows like nobody else.
// Notes from the Road
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