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Published: 2003/07/28
by Brian Ferdman

Boogaloo To Beck – Dr. Lonnie Smith

Scufflin’ Records 8481
During these summer months, tribute albums are like mosquitoes — you can’t
walk five feet without getting bitten by a bloodthirsty one of them. Just
like mosquitoes, tribute albums seem to serve little purpose except to drain
the life from otherwise vital music. When I learned of a boogaloo tribute
to Beck, I had to ask, Why? Beck’s music already cuts across so many
genres; why pigeonhole it into one musical category? Well, if you can turn
Beck’s music into a personal playground for a jazz legend, that’s a good
enough excuse for me.
Surprisingly, Beck’s dense songs benefit from being stripped down into
little more than their melodic essence. Of course, it helps when you have
giants such as Lonnie Smith, David "Fathead" Newman, and Doug Munro
experimenting with the tunes. But these songs work incredibly well in the
boogaloo format and provide a nice launching pad for the improvisational
talents of these fine musicians.
Dr. Lonnie Smith has certainly aged well. Utilizing his Hammond organ, he
pulls out all of his tricks in a variety of ways. On the opening "Paper
Tiger," Smith sets the tone of the album by dropping in a slow, slinking
groove and building tension during his long, sustained solos. "Where It’s
At" finds him perfectly at home in the land of O70s funk, while "He’s a
Mighty Good Leader" effortlessly fits Smith into a gospel feel, and he
preaches with fire and brimstone. However, the most underrated aspect of
Smith’s playing is his ability to comp and shift the groove underneath of
solos. His interplay with guitarist Munro serves as the catalyst for the
many climaxes on this record.
Tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman has been blessed with a silky
smooth tone. Without a vocalist, this unit often relies upon Newman’s
ability to deliver the vocal line through his buttery instrument. On both
"Sexx Laws" and "Jack-Ass," Newman’s tone adds a nice counterpoint to the
staccato employed by the rest of the band, and he consistently takes soulful
solos that are just too cool to reach the point of wailing.
Young drummer Lafrae Sci holds her own in a room of jazz titans. Instead of
being awed by the masters surrounding her, she propels them to loftier
heights by both pushing and easing off tempos. Her tight and clipped beats
give the album its percolating feel, but her wide range of dynamics really
move the record to interesting places.
Finally, the unsung hero of this entourage is guitarist/arranger/producer
Doug Munro. For some reason, Munro is not even listed on the album cover,
and that’s a crime because this album belongs to him. His arrangements are
clever and fit perfectly within the boogaloo genre. Key decisions, such as
slowing down "Loser" or pushing "Jack-Ass" into an uptempo hip-pocket of
funk, play perfectly to the talents of this band. As a guitarist, his work
provides some of the most interesting textures on the disc. His rhythms are
the glue that hold everything together, and his backup lines and
improvisations frequently give Smith a nice springboard for big explosions.
Munro’s soloing always maintains a sense of effortlessness, whether he’s
busy quoting "Soulfinger" or "Chameleon" or if he’s employing a chunky
wah-wah on "Where It’s At."
Boogaloo To Beck is one of those rare examples of a successful
tribute album. By stripping away the clutter of Beck’s music and reducing
it to little more than melody, the listener discovers that Beck has actually
written some fine melodies. Setting those melodies in a boogaloo context
feels natural and results in album that is both incredibly smooth and
undeniably cool.

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