PERSONNEL: Dr. Lonnie Smith (B3 Hammond organ, keyboards, custom electric walking stick), Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar), Johnathan Blake (drums)
SET LIST: Up Jumped Spring (Hubbard), Alhambra (Smith), Frame for the Blues (Hampton), JuJu (Shorter), Play it Back (Smith)
HIGHLIGHTS: Smith’s unaccompanied intro to “Alhambra” with several Korg keyboards was a spontaneously composed concerto that evoked the feeling of both Charles Ives and Gil Evans. Kreisberg and Blake’s effortless swing and open ears generated exciting musical interplay throughout.
The good doctor is still full of surprises. At 75 years old, the spirited NEA Jazz Master is leading a grooving and imaginative unit that melds the wisdom of venerable guru with two younger and forward thinking musicians.
“Up Jumped Spring” kicked off the set. Smith and Kreisberg’s harmonic interaction was a treat, both carefully attuned to the space and timbre of the other. After Smith’s beautifully orchestrated intro to “Alhambra,” the band launched into a lilting, up-tempo groove that suggested an Afro-Cuban Ennio Morricone. Slide Hampton’s “Frame for the Blues” began as the quietest ballad I’ve ever heard. Kreisberg took a particularly tasteful and bluesy solo, evoking the minimalist melodicism of Lester Young.
Wayne Shorter’s “JuJu” combined the spirit of the 1965 original with a driving, modernist rhythmic quality. Blake was the ringleader, offering a constant flow of ideas generating new pathways and ending with a modulation into a gentle 4/4 hip hop groove that sounded like a lost track from J Dilla’s Donuts.
At this point, Smith grabbed a walking stick and slowly sauntered out into the crowd, taking a seat at the far end of the dining room (“He is 75, after all,” Kreisberg playfully reminded the audience). I wasn’t really sure what was going on, and I wasn’t alone – the band looked confused, and the even the club turned the lights on. However, as bewildered chatter started to permeate the room, distinct percussive sounds began to come from the stage. Smith had started waltzing back up, playing the strange, electronic music stick (the “Slaperoo”, as I was later informed) as a sort of electric bass/theremin hybrid.
“Putting on a show” is generally more scarce in the modern climate. Those with a flair for showmanship can tread dangerously close to melodrama but Smith had charmed us from the beginning. I’ve seen other jazz elders like Roy Haynes and Tootie Health utilize this element of entertainment in their performances as well.
On the final Smith original “Play it Back,” Blake’s deep and well- orchestrated drumming reminded me of “Zigaboo” Modeliste with the Meters. He had the entire Standard dancing. The band reached a fever pitch, and for a moment there was a distinct Jimi Hendrix power trio vibe as the audience shouted and cheered. During the final climactic moments, Smith summed up the evening by turning to Kreisberg and exclaiming, “Wow!”
— by Nicole Glover