Chris Daly knows that sometimes it’s hard to “Keeping the Faith.”
2016 remains the year that you’re going to commit to #ListenToMoreJazz, and Passion of the Weiss is here to help. To start this mission off correctly, let’s delve into the world of jazz/funk/R&B fusionista Dr. Lonnie Smith, and his latest offering, Evolution. The album marks the good doctor’s return to the venerable and venerated Blue Note label after an absence of nearly 45 years. Produced by Label President Don Was (he of (Not Was)), the album finds the Hammond B-3 organ master in rare form, hitting all the right spots on this mixture of old and new material. Much like Luke Skywalker bringing back Anakin or Lebron being shepherded back into the Cleveland fold, Was has had a stellar run of returning great masters to the label in his still short tenure.
Evolution‘s strength lies in its ranging, almost improvisational feel. No one steals the spotlight, but everyone gets equal time to shine.Sounding this effortless is a mark of excellence– a brilliant blend of structured interplay and ranging solos, Tracks like opener “Play It Back” sound like a Saturday morning jam fest where the libations flow as freely as the boys in the band. (FYI, this one was originally recorded for Smith’s Live At Club Mozambique.) Having label mate Robert Glasper tickling the ivories here certainly doesn’t hurt the procession, either. Follow-up “Afrodesia,” another track originally recorded some 40 years ago, trends slightly more avant-garde, but the inclusion of trumpeter Joe Lovano keeps the otherworldly astral projection nicely grounded.
Smith tears it up on the covers, too. His take on Monk’s ?Straight No Chaser,” with its brilliant guitar flourishes and rat-a-tat percussion, showcases individual talents coalescing into a beautiful mixture. “My Favorite Things” is perhaps the most covered jazz standard of the past few decades. (Seriously, I don’t think they hand out your black sunglasses and soul patch until you’ve covered this and Someday My Prince Will Come.) Hell, Outkast covered it on Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Smith somehow transforms the intro into a samurai western soundtrack worthy of Tarantino’s next genre exercise before those familiar notes take front and center. This is the track where the drumming duo of Joe Dyson and Johnathan Blake really stands out. John Ellis reminds us that there’s a serious dearth of flute in all of our lives on the closer “African Suite.”
For those seeking further, but unnecessary, background, think of Smith in the same vein as a jazzier Bernie Worrell or a funkier Ray Charles. Better yet, just go pick up Evolution and figure it out yourself. And with that, you are already well on your way to #ListenToMoreJazz.