[11 August 2003]
Anyone remember the Booker T. & the MG’s record McLemore Avenue? Released a shade past the group’s heyday in 1970, it featured Booker T. and company stepping out with a whole LP’s worth of Beatles covers, even going so far as to spoof the Abbey Road album cover with the band photographed crossing McLemore Avenue in their native Memphis, Tennessee. While it’s certainly fun to have around as a novelty piece, hearing Booker and the band groan their way through several of Abbey Road‘s side two medleys is a guilty pleasure that gets far more mileage as a party favor than a piece of serious listening.
Dr. Lonnie Smith‘s (not to be confused with the far more cosmic Lonnie Liston Smith) new Boogaloo to Beck CD operates on a similar premise. It’s a clever concept—one of soul-jazz’s premier organists and his hotshot band cutting an entire record of Beck covers—but unfortunately, it’s one that looks better on paper than it sounds in execution. Smith and his group, which features guitarist Doug Munro, drummer Lafrae Sci, and special guest tenor saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, groove their way through nine career-spanning Beck compositions, touching on the obvious hits (“Loser”, “Where It’s At”) while tackling a couple of less likely numbers along the way.
Guitarist Munro crafted all of the record’s arrangements, remaining largely faithful to the originals while shaping them into vehicles for the more solo-oriented soul-jazz aesthetic. While he does add an unexpected twist here and there, one gets the feeling that it wasn’t all that difficult an adaptation—after all, there’s plenty of groove inherent in Beck’s music (now Tool, that would’ve been a challenge!). Regardless, the entire band plays loosely and with a lot of feeling, so that even though it’s not exactly a radical concept, it’s still an entertaining set of music.
Strangely enough, the tracks taken from Beck’s Midnite Vultures disc make the best transitions to boogaloo form—“Sexx Laws”, with Sci working wonders out of a JB’s-style funky drummer beat under Fathead’s solo, and the Dr.‘s scatting along with his solo break on “Mixed Buziness” are two of the album’s most endearing moments. “Where It’s At” also proves to be a perfect soul-jazz vehicle, as the Fathead-less trio succinctly captures Beck’s folk-hop vibe. The most fascinating performance, however, is another Odelay track; “Devil’s Haircut” finds Munro using some rock guitar effects to liven up the trio, as Smith responds in kind with some tonal explorations of his own.
Unfortunately the highs aren’t sufficient enough to offset the lows, as most of the remaining tracks either outstay the novelty or fall flat to begin with—the droll elevator music take on “Tropicalia”, the tepid blues shuffle of “He’s a Mighty Good Leader”, and the bland swing arrangement of “The New Pollution” are all prime examples. But the quartet’s downright weak attempt at “Loser” is unforgivable, fading out at the three-minute mark without ever coming together as anything remotely resembling a master take—from a marketing standpoint it’s obvious why it was still included, but for that same reason one would think they’d have tried a couple more takes to yield something more definitive.
Yet it’s that same sense of kitsch marketing that will probably make this release more popular with Beck fans than staunch jazz aficionados, because even though the playing is solid throughout (or, in Lafrae Sci’s case, exceptional) the results still come out as an unremarkable jazz session. But even if it doesn’t work from a jazz standpoint, it’s ideal for those moments when a party or DJ set needs a hefty curveball to spice things up.