Evolution, anearly 2016 Bluenote Records release, comes from organist Lonnie Smith who released his debut album, Finger-lickin’ good, in 1967 on Columbia. Smith largely got his start with Bluenote upon signing with the label shortly after in 1968. Started in 1939 and currently in operation under the Universal Music Group, the label once hosted the likes of Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Art Blakey and others. Smith’s career blossomed in 1966 when he met George Benson in New York and formed the George Benson Quartet alongside the Pittsburgh native.
50 years later, the New Yorker himself features jazz standards from Monk and Coltrane on his latest work with “Straight No Chaser” and “My Favorite Things” respectively. “Dr.” Lonnie features bebop Clevelander Joe Lovano on two tracks and is also joined by Houston musician and Grammy-winner, Robert Glasper. Evolution is short at seven tracks but long at 63 minutes with a full personnel consisting of Smith on Hammond B-3 organ, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, John Ellis on tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute, Keyon Harrold and Maurice Brown on trumpet, and Jonathan Blake and Joe Dyson on drums.
The 14 minute opener, “Play It Back,” is loose and bouncy with Glasper tastefully taking the reigns from Smith a shade after the one minute mark and toying with an almost verbatim lick from “Afro Blue,” a track featuring Erykah Badu from Glasper’s 2012 release, Black Radio, that won a Grammy for Best R&B Album. The following track is Lonnie and Lovano taking Evolution as an opportunity to reconvene on a reworked “Afrodesia,” a track the duo first recorded and released on an album of the same name in 1975.
Smith’s take on Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” begins dark, desolate and swirling then quietly fizzles out with the hi-hat to soon return with a bright splash of organ and crisp percussion. The track finally achieves lightness as the motif dances about the frets of Kreisberg while Smith wastes no time plunging into an organ excursion. “Talk About This” is another great pick from Evolution that features a short vocal chant and impressive work from Maurice Brown.
The album finishes on the largely atypical “African Suite,” a track with elephant-like brass and exotic, classical guitar and percussion. John Ellis’ flute cannot be missed and is imperative in the theme whilst interchanging between Smith’s sweet Hammond melodies The tenure Smith shows on Evolution demands reverence as this album will safely stand out in the 2016 jazz landscape.
Recommended If You Like: John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Joe Lovano, Robert Glapser
Recommended Tracks: 1 (Play It Back feat. Robert Glasper), 6 (My Favorite Things), 2 (Afrodesia feat. Joe Lovano), 5 (Talk About This)