Jimmy Smith Tribute featuring Fred Wesley, Ronnie Scott’s, London – review

The late Hammond organist Jimmy Smith worked only sporadically with trombonists. This tribute, however, placed the instrument squarely at the fore. Luckily, the trombonist in question was former James Brown linchpin Fred Wesley, and by the end of the evening it was his gruff warmth and repertoire that took precedence.

At the start, though, it was pure Hammond as a solitary organist impressively reincarnated the spirit of Jimmy Smith. Leonardo Corradi is only 21, but he got the founding father of modern jazz organ’s style off to a T. The blues were full on, bass pedals walked and each note of his long and loping bebop lines was separated by a distinct click. As with Smith, his quick-fire attack squeezed snappy motifs into a fraction of a bar. He even captured Smith’s trace element of funeral-parlour vibrato without over-egging the pudding.

The band joined one by one, first with drummer Tony Match on a boogaloo “Sonny” and then trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso on a modern jazz swinger. Match was a little too heavy on the back beat, while Bosso’s slurs, growls and rapid lines played more to the gallery than the pulse.

Wesley entered with New Orleans alto saxophonist Jesse Davis and, casually voicing a lazy mid-tempo shuffle, made it all look so easy. Wesley’s smooth lines and funky stutters were both a calming presence and exciting highpoints to match Corradi’s fluency and feel. Davis’s mix of R’n’B licks and modern jazz lines was also good value, and his soul-flecked phrasing on “Lover Man” was a duet highlight of the second set.

Over the evening, “Back at the Chicken Shack” referenced Smith’s funky organ combos and “The Preacher” and a vocal-enhanced “Got My Mojo Working” the organist’s big band hits. The strings of solos, though, were closer to the first set’s “Caravan”, and brought to mind the loose jam sessions the organist recorded for Blue Note in the late 1950s.

One such jam session album was called House Party, but the tune Wesley called to wrap up the gig was out of the J.B.’s songbook, and it wasn’t the first to be somewhat removed from the Smith canon. But it went down a treat and won a blues for an encore while confirming the gig’s patchwork design.


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