This previously unreleased live set, which has been issued on Blue Note's Rare Groove Series, will bore anyone who listens closely. The repertoire is dominated by lengthy funk grooves that are quite danceable but never develop beyond the obvious. Altoist Lou Donaldson was using a baritone horn at the time that gave him a generic and unappealing tone, the obscure trumpeter Fred Ballard does his best to no avail and the enthusiastic rhythm section (guitarist Melvin Sparks, organist Leon Spencer, Jr., and drummer Idris Muhammad) keeps the grooves repetitious. Bob Porter's liner notes (which colorfully give readers the history of Newark jazz of the past 30 years) are superlative but, even with the inclusion of a fast blues, musically nothing much happens.
Recorded on May 21, 1970, at Detroit's Club Mozambique, this was shelved and remained unreleased until it was retrieved for CD issue in 1995. It's odd that Blue Note decided to sit on it for so long, because it ranks as one of Lonnie's better sets. The band, featuring George Benson on guitar, is relaxed and funky without being in your face about it, and unlike much soul-jazz of the time, most of the material is original, Smith having penned six of the eight numbers. Although the riffs often owe a lot to James Brown, this is definitely at least as much jazz as soul, with Lonnie taking a rare vocal turn on "Peace of Mind."
Set Us Free, Reuben Wilson's final album for Blue Note, was issued in 1971. Since that time it has become an immortal and much sought classic by beatheads for a single track: "We're in Love." DJ Premier sampled it liberally – for its Hammond B-3 vamps, backing vocals, and decorative percussion – for use on rapper Nas' smash "Memory Lane." Hip-hop fans suddenly had to hear more, and as a result not only is Wilson active again on the circuit, but there has also been terrific interest in his catalog.
Move Your Hand was recorded live at Club Harlem in Atlantic City on August 9, 1969. Organist Lonnie Smith led a small combo – featuring guitarist Larry McGee, tenor saxist Rudy Jones, bari saxist Ronnie Cuber, and drummer Sylvester Goshay – through a set that alternated originals with two pop covers, the Coasters' "Charlie Brown" and Donovan's "Sunshine Superman." Throughout, the band works a relaxed, bluesy, and, above all, funky rhythm; they abandon improvisation and melody for a steady groove, so much that the hooks of the two pop hits aren't recognizable until a few minutes into the track.
Think!, organist Lonnie Smith's 1968 sophomore effort for Blue Note, is easily one of the strongest dates the Hammond B-3 master would produce for the label. Featuring a stellar group of musicians including trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist David Newman, guitarist Melvin Sparks, and drummer Marion Booker, Jr., as well as a three-member Afro-Latin percussion unit led by Henry "Pucho" Brown, Think! is a perfect mix of funky soul and forward-thinking jazz. Kicking things off with Hugh Masekela's instantly memorable "Son of Ice Bag," both Sparks and Newman take searching funk-flow solos while Morgan seems to be remembering a certain Masekela lick he dug.
On IN THE BEGINNING, the second release on Pilgrimage Recording, his imprint label which he founded in 2012, Dr. Lonnie Smith revisits, recontextualizes, and reimagines a dozen songs culled from his first decade as a recording artist. The end product is a document as distinctive and accomplished as any within Smith’s iconic canon.
Reissue with the latest remastering. Comes with liner notes. While the phenomenal success of George Benson’s Breezin’ (1976) album may have fattened his wallet; it led the guitarist down a path that dismayed jazz critics worldwide. Indeed, the bulk of Benson’s albums over the past 20 years have featured considerably less jazz and, unfortunately, more pop. Not so with The George Benson Cookbook (1966). This sizzling CD features the then young, hotshot string-picker on 14 swingin’ bebop/soul-jazz tracks. Benson kicks things off in rapid fashion with the aptly titled, "The Cooker." Not only does this track feature blazing licks from Benson, but baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and organist Lonnie Smith also weigh in with tasty solos.
Reissue with the latest remastering. Comes with liner notes. George Benson's first LP for Columbia – a hard, heavy, soul jazz slammer that bears no resemblance to his overproduced work of the 70s! The album's a real cooker – recorded hot on the heels of Benson's classic work on Prestige with the Jack McDuff group, and sounding a lot like McDuff's hard wailing organ jazz of the same time. George is working with a group that features a young Lonnie Smith on organ, plus Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Ronnie Cuber on sax, and Charlie Persip on drums – all tightly coming together, and jamming hard on the album's short cooking tracks. Tracks include "Clockwise", "Jaguar", "Hello Birdie", and "Bullfight". Plus, the CD adds five bonus tracks, including "Sideman", "Minor Chant", and the previously unreleased "J.H. Bossa Nova" and "Clockwise (Alternate Take)".
Who says you have to slow down as you get older? The honorable B-3 master, Dr. Lonnie Smith, has been on a renaissance tear since the beginning of the 21st century. Rise Up! is the fifth new recording since 2000, and there have been a number of reissues of his older work to boot. Given that some artists issue a record a year, this may not seem like such a terrific feat – but appearances are deceiving. Smith recorded only 13 albums between 1966 and 1996, so five in nine years is actually prolific. It's not only the quantity, however, it's the consistency of the quality of the records Smith has been releasing that is outstanding, and Rise Up! is no exception.