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June 23, 2011 6:24 pm

Dr Lonnie Smith Trio, Ronnie Scott’s, London

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It has been a couple of years since legendary Hammond organist Dr Lonnie Smith played Ronnie Scott’s, and a packed house awaited the slight, be-turbaned figure and his accomplices, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums. Smith’s career stretches back to the 1960s, his music encompassing soul, gospel, blues and acid jazz, and he has an unrivalled reputation for producing burn-up funk from the beast that is the Hammond B3.

Perhaps because of expectation, and an initial feedback problem, the trio took a while to settle. On “Mellow Mood”, from his 2010 album Spiral, Smith was happy to let Kreisberg take the lead with the first of many fluent solos. Over the organ’s low bass groove and trance-like chords, Kreisberg’s riffing and wah-wah effect took us to a New York nightclub in the 1970s. It all coasted along nicely but never kicked into full-blown funk. “Frame for the Blues” also started tentatively, though it grew to deliver some gorgeous, woody xylophone ripples from Smith’s right hand, while he sang along in his small, dreamy voice. But in “Beehive”, Smith and co went boldly down the path of 70s prog rock. Screeching organ chords, long, atonal guitar sequences and free-form drumming (“like a fire in a pet shop”, my companion said) went beyond the point of being interesting and left the audience perplexed.

Things picked up with “Matterapat”, a cool, 60s-feel jazz number with spooky bass notes, and Smith was back in the groove. “Spring is Here” began with birdsong chirrups and tweets, like retro ring tones, and expanded into a soulful ballad. A master of the slow build, Smith chooses his stops intuitively: warm, round harmonium chords flowed out, with the occasional swell in the bass, till finally he let rip with full Wurlitzer force. Rousing and true, it showed his impeccable roots.

A shift into driving Latin showed Williams on fine form, with crisp, tight soloing, beautiful tuning and inspired use of the tambourine. But the trio worked best together in the final number, “Pilgrimage” – pure gospel, modulating after every phrase, with Kreisberg on lead lifting the melody up. Smith’s vocals were little more than “doo-doo-doos” but the notes were so right. This was the tune you remember and wake up humming the next day.

 

ronniescotts.co.uk

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