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Disc review: Dr. Lonnie Smith, 'Evolution'

Dr. Lonnie Smith, "Evolution" (Blue Note)

Sadly, the publicity people at Blue Note are under the impression that Dr. Lonnie Smith -- 73-year old Red-Turbanned organ maestro--is a "native of Detroit" rather than the Lackawanna-born stalwart who developed his "foot-tapping grooves" and "sophisticated harmonic voicings" in Buffalo clubs in bands with his brothers. Never mind that we know him as the one who stars in one of our city's happier musical legends.

Smith himself said that the great Stan Szelest organized a gig for Lonnie and his bros and, to equip them, took him to Kubera's music store. Smith's tale is that Art Kubera told him that if he could get the 425-pound Hammond B-3 out of the store's back room, he could have the thing. And that, children, is a primal moment for a musician who has increasingly been one of the reigning Hammond B-3 masters of blue-collar organ jazz.

Blue Note, in its current search for roots it could popularize, brought him back into the fold (he got there first in a late-'60's Lou Donaldson record). No one should be surprised by some rhythmic rigidity in the rock rhythms but the disc is full of surprises along with Smith's flamboyant and venturesome playing (as much Larry Young as Jimmy Smith.)

Pianist Robert Glasper sits in on the opening track, Joe Lovano on two others. Smith's version of "My Favorite Things" may be one of the precious few you'll ever hear that owes absolutely nothing to John Coltrane's. And the final "African Suite" does infectious things with two drummers. When the doctor is in, the music is nothing but healthy.

3 stars (out of four)

Listen to a single, "Straight No Chaser," from Smith's "Evolution."

Email Jeff Simon at

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