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Published: 2016/02/09
by Ron Hart

Dr. Lonnie Smith
Evolution

The Hammond B3 magic of Dr. Lonnie Smith helped define the Blue Note sound of the 1960s and early ‘70s. In fact, Smith’s version of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” has been sampled in over 60 hip-hop songs, most notably by A Tribe Called Quest, who used it on both “Can I Kick It?” and “Buggin’ Out.” And in one of the tastiest moves he’s made yet as president, Don Was has not only brought the good doctor back to Blue Note for the first time in 45 years, but he also produced the album. On Evolution, Was queues up a crisp, sharp sonic field similar to his work behind the boards on your favorite Was (Not Was) LP, as the turban-donning B3 guru whips up some of his most impassioned playing in years. Flanked by a stellar crew of modern musicians—guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, reedist John Ellis, drummers Joe Tyson and Johnathan Blake and trumpeter Maurice Brown chief among them—Smith falls right back into that vintage Blue Note groove as if Richard Nixon was still in the White House on versions of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Coltrane’s variation on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things.” Elsewhere, he goes toe-to-toe with pianist Robert Glasperon opening track “Play It Back,” while saxophonist Joe Lovano—who debuted on Smith’s 1975 album Afrodesia—revisits the title cut of that record with the warmth of a reunion between old friends. Evolution is a good old-fashioned Blue Note boogaloo party and a most triumphant homecoming for one of the label’s true OGs.

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