2) Dr. Lonnie Smith - Spiral (Palmetto)
Dr. Lonnie Smith has taken a place as one of the world's top jazz organists, and he's settled into a steady groove of releasing albums of such high quality as to merit such distinction. At the age of 68, Smith shows no sign of slowing his output or dumbing down his music, and Spiral is an eminently convincing case for the continued preeminence of the Doctor.
Spiral takes a wide view of soul jazz, an idiom of which Smith has become a figure head. From the impossibly funky boogaloo of the lead-off track, Jimmy Smith's "Mellow Mood," to the smoky, snail's pace swing of "Frame For the Blues," Smith and his band make a case for the diversity of the genre. Spiral isn't as eclectic as, say, Claudia Quintet's Royal Toast, but in a way, it's all the more impressive how much ground Smith and his trio mates cover while still staying within the realm of radio-friendly mainstream jazz. "I've Never Been in Love Before" is rendered as a classic swing tune, but it's the lone track on the disc of which that can be said.
Drummer Jamire Williams and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg lay down an unconventional foundation for the standard "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," playing dark harmonies over a jittery Drum and Bass groove. The familiar tune takes on a whole new character. Harold Mabern's "Beehive" becomes an all-out rock-fusion jam, and Smith's R&B title track is more D'Angelo than DeFrancesco. At this point in his career, Smith could be forgiven for playing it safe, but the music on Spiral, like the album's name, isn't interested in the straight-and-narrow.
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