The Doctor is in the house this weekend at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase. Friday night I had the opportunity to sit through two of the better sets I have seen and heard at the Showcase in a number of years. I have always been a huge fan of Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and Jimmy McGriff, who I saw in a bar when I sixteen--the owner bought me a drink. Dr. Lonnie Smith pushes the boundaries established by those luminaries, getting a lot of varied and interesting sounds out of his Hammond B3 organ. Gotta love the spinning horn. Accompanying Smith were Jonathan Kreisberg on a lovely hollow body guitar, Chicago drummer Xavier Breaker, who clearly impressed Smith with his virtuosity, and Kaylan Parthak on tabla and percussion.
Unfortunately both Xavier Breaker and Kaylan Parthak are not pictured because they were positioned in a dark corner. That should not be taken to mean that either one was not vital to the effort. Both added color to the ensemble, with lovely fills. Gotta love the tabla, such an interesting instrument.
Smith included a wide array of varied numbers in his sets, including Monk's Straight, No Chaser, Coltrane's My Favorite Things, Paul Simon's Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, snatches of McCartney-Lennon's Norwegian Wood, and Maynard Ferguson's Frame for the Blues. Smith opened with a psychedelic-organ piece that came right out of the late Sixties, early Seventies. Along the way, Smith and the band treated the audience to more blues, lots of extended improvisation and interplay between the musicians, and some Indian influenced material thanks to Parthak.
At 11:30PM, Smith introduced the band for a second time, and looked like he was headed off stage, but then he bent over, picked up a cable, and plugged it into his aluminum walking stick and cane. He then started to strum the stick, coaching some interesting sounds out it. Not quite James Brown funk, but close, and very percussive. Slowly the band joined in for a ten minute encore, with mouths rightly agape in the audience. Smith may need the cane to help his mobility, but for ten minutes he moved like Peter Townsend and Jimi Hendrix, kicking one leg out while balanced on the other. I might have seen a few Townsend trademark windmills in there. Quite the tour-de-force.
Chicago Tribune reviewer Howard Reich noted in his review of Thursday night's first set that Smith was awarded National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship earlier this month, which is "widely considered the country's highest jazz honor," according to Reich, who was knocked out by the performances. Reich is a very thoughtful and knowledgeable reviewer, who by now has seen it all. His review was glowing, noting the many levels of Smith's artistry, even drawing comparisons to "groundbreaking pianist Ahmad Jamal."
I can only hope that Smith and company comes back to town in the near future.