Dr. Lonnie Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Dr. Lonnie Smith 

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Though keyboardist Dr. Lonnie Smith has outdistanced the soul preservationists of the acid-jazz wave with recent albums devoted to the music of Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane, you still have to credit the revival of interest in organ jazz for his renewed career. When he left the scene in the 80s, the critical establishment hadn't yet caught up with him--so despite his galvanizing style, even now most lists of the important jazz organists omit the good doctor. From almost the beginning--his early recordings as a member of George Benson's powerhouse mid-60s quartet--Smith has colored outside the lines of the soul licks endemic to his instrument, distinguishing himself from the most famous Smith in his field, organ-jazz pioneer Jimmy Smith. (There's also a pianist named Lonnie Liston Smith: different guy altogether.) On Live at Club Mozambique (Blue Note), recorded in 1970 but not issued till a quarter century later, he plugs into raw funk rhythms and drinks up so much energy that he sends his fastest lines spinning nearly out of control and pummels common riffs into intriguingly distorted versions of their former selves. The album foreshadows his current style: though he still anchors his music with fierce R & B grooves, he's added a fair amount of mysticism while refining his funky lines and even funkier electronic voicings. Because he continued to evolve during his long sabbatical from the public eye, his playing still sounds fresh and his solos are more inventive than ever. The jazz organ hasn't bred all that many great individualists, but with each passing year Lonnie Smith more firmly secures his place among them. Sadly, he's playing at Green Dolphin Street, which provides one of the worst listening experiences in Chicago: its high ceilings make it echo like a gymnasium, and its management remains as unconcerned about noisy patrons as said patrons are about the music. An electric organ can cut through the din, though, so you still have an odds-on chance of hearing what Smith can do. Friday and Saturday, 10 PM, Green Dolphin Street, 2200 N. Ashland; 773-395-0066. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.

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