Dr. Lonnie Smith Octet – In the Beginning Vols. 1-2 (2013)

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Dr. Lonnie Smith is not one for looking back. Still, the pull of his earliest recordings — including late-1960s tongue-wagging groovers like Turning Point and Move Your Hand — remains strong.

And so, when the iconic Hammond B-3 wizard decided to return to those moments, it was with an eye toward updating them, adding new colors and shadings, bringing them forward not as curios from another era but as living, breathing pieces of art. In keeping, In the Beginning Vols. 1-2 — due on October 15, 2013 from his own Pilgrimage Recording imprint — isn’t a retread. It’s a rethinking, a re-imaginging, of everything that once made Smith great … and what still does.

Simple, groove-laden ideas like the title track, originally found on Smith’s 1966 debut Finger-lickin’ Good, are brilliantly expanded through the prism of a newly assembled octet of sympathetic players. Guitarist Ed Cherry, a stalwart practicioner of the Jimmy Nolen-style R&B stab, is paired with conguero Johnny Rivero and drummer Johnathan Blake to fashion a complimentary series of grease-popping cadences that would make Idris Muhammad green with envy. The arrangements, courtesy of alto-saxist Ian Henderson-Smith (Dap-Kings, Al Green, Amy Winehouse) deftly fit in space for saucy contributions from baritonist Jason Marshall (filling the role Ronnie Cubar once had), tenorist John Ellis and trumpeter Andy Gravish — all before a live audience in a converted Model T factory in Queens.

In this boisterous, symbiotic atmosphere, “Turning Point” moves with a newfound vigor — as Smith’s gurgling asides push his new confederates to ever higher precipices. Every one of these songs, in fact, is heard in a whole new way. From the title track on 1969’s Move Your Hand, which has perhaps never had more sensual portent, to “Psycedelic Pi,” from 1970’s Drives — which finds Smith and Cherry imaginatively tangling with the horn section — In the Beginning Vols 1-2 opens new vistas. “Slow High,” also from 1969’s Turning Point sways with an intoxicating romance; “Slouchin,'” originally the closing track on Think! in 1968, is an earthy delight. These aren’t redux moments; they’re fresh revelations.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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