Dr. Lonnie Smith & Charles Earland | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Dr. Lonnie Smith & Charles Earland 


The soul jazz explosion that buoyed and then sank the Blue Note label in the 60s and 70s had few better exponents than organist Lonnie Smith. Emerging from the combo led by George Benson, Smith never boasted the bottomless technique that has become the expected standard for jazz as played on the Hammond B-3. But like countless other jazz individualists, he had more than enough chops to bring his ideas to life, applying his surefooted musicality to such memorable period pieces as 1970's Drives (reissued in 1994)--the title of which accurately describes his music's propulsive properties. Within the year--as proved on Live at Club Mozambique, which languished on Blue Note's shelves for 25 years before its 1995 release--Smith was smoothly blending in both James Brown funk (with soul vocals and thumping backbeats) and traces of Miles Davis fusion (in some of the organ harmonies and voicings). He then all but disappeared, reemerging just this decade with a two-album session memorializing Jimi Hendrix--and in the process emphasizing his own R & B roots. (Both albums, Purple Haze and Foxy Lady, came out in this country on MusicMasters, which has also just issued Smith's new homage to John Coltrane, Afro-Blue.) A more measured player than most of his B-3 contemporaries, Smith allows himself the leisurely development of small melodic hooks, and punctuates his playing with the smart use of timbral effects; his playing doesn't concern soulful jazz so much as the soul of jazz. With any luck, he'll be able to push his sparring partner for this gig, organist Charles Earland, out of his couch-potato cliches and into some serious B-3 flame throwing. For years now, Earland has holed up with a limited repertoire of patented runs and turnarounds, cycling through each solo with none of the joy of discovery that once gave his music its spirit. I don't know if he can ever recapture that drive, but this would be a good time to try. By the way, you 70s-soul-jazz-fusion types, don't expect to hear favorite tunes from your old Cosmic Echoes LPs: the Echoes belonged to pianist-keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith, another player altogether; in the 80s, when Lonnie Smith the organist added "Dr." to his professional moniker, it just added one more wrinkle to a perpetual case of mistaken identity. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Dr. Lonnie Smith photo.

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