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There was a Doctor in the house . . . Ian Kloss joins the voices on Jazz@Rochester and reviews Dr. Lonnie Smith at Exodus to Jazz

Thanks to one of our previous voices, Jazz@Rochester was introduced to Ian Kloss, who is the latest occasional voice that will be read in these pages. Ian is just completing a Bachelors degree in jazz guitar at Eastman School of Music and is staying on for a extra year to focus on art criticism. He's performed at the Rochester International Jazz Festival with the Eastman group Hunter and Bear and will be doing so again this year. He's the regular guitarist in the Ben Britton Band (formerly known as Sonic Duality) and sits in occasionally with Dubblestuff. Ian took in the Henderson-Owens Trio featuring Dr. Lonnie Smith last night in another installment of the wonderful Exodus to Jazz series. Here's what Ian sent in:

Dr. Lonnie Smith . . . he could very easily be the funkiest person alive. Last night (Thursday, April 12) at the Riverside Clarion Hotel, the legendary organist returned to Rochester with a trio featuring Brooklyn-based ace drummer Ulysses Owens and local guitarist Mel Henderson, who is a core member of funk-fusion group Paradigm Shift. At 65, Smith is as vigorous and unpredictable as ever, cutting loose on his B-3 with an intensely physical approach. In the hour-plus first set, Smith led the band through a varied collection of tunes that favored simple harmonies and rolling grooves, allowing Smith’s unparalleled mastery of phrasing to shine. Highlights included “Willow Weep for Us,” Smith’s playful take on “Willow Weep for Me,” and “Nawlin’s,” the blues-funk standard that served as the group’s closer. Another interesting moment came when Smith indulged his love of guttural, expressive singing on a sped-up, much-funkified version of the Beatles’ “Come Together.” I could ramble for some time about Smith’s great qualities, including his impressive control of his instrument’s sound, summoning an astonishing range of tones and dynamics.

Dr. Lonnie SmithSmith’s strongest rapport was with Owens, a young drummer who’s already made a name playing with a long list of straight-ahead greats. Owens’ flexibility, and his comprehensive use of his drum set’s palette of sounds, make him a great match for the good Doctor. The group dealt gamely with the sonic demands of the space, an echo-prone banquet hall that sometimes made Smith’s more subtle playing difficult to hear. There was also a P.A. system which may or may not have been necessary (for one thing, it made the bass pretty overpowering). The sound was adjusted, for the better, after the first couple of tunes, and it was smooth sailing from there.

Smith deserves his reputation as a jazz ambassador. When he made the rounds after the set, cordially greeting everyone in the audience- strangers and old friends alike- it was like seeing a mysterious foreign dignitary in action. Smith cut a great figure in his instantly-recognizable concert attire. Although his clothes of choice (including his famous turban) resemble traditional Sikh garb, Smith once explained that he favors these duds for “no particular reason.” The audience was with him, and the group as a whole, all the way.

Exodus to Jazz founder Jose DaCosta gave a brief pre-concert address. It was good to catch this talk, as DaCosta laid out some of the upcoming Exodus lineup, including famed jazz saxophonist Seamus Blake, who recently sat in with Helen Sung at her ETJ performance when her sax player was ill) and an almost unheard-of straight ahead set by smooth jazz saxophonist Mindi Abair (here's the schedule for the rest of the Spring season of ETJ). For anybody who didn’t catch Smith this time out, the good news is that he’ll be back in town as part of this year’s exciting RIJF schedule.

Thanks, Ian!  We hope to hear some more from you in the coming months.  Please feel free to leave Ian a comment in by clicking on the comment link below. 

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Comments

I was at the Lonnie show. Dr. Lonnie Smith and Hammond B3 are synonymous. After the first 5 minutes of a Dr. Lonnie Smith performance, you’ll know exactly why that’s true. The Exodus to Jazz show was no exception. To a packed room and standing ovations, Lonnie’s trio performed tunes from his latest albums “Too Damn Hot” and “Jungle Soul.” Lonnie was joined by guitarist Melvin Henderson and drummer Ulysses Owens. Two fabulous musicians that were on the top of their games that night; but anyone would have to be when playing with Dr. Lonnie Smith. As a sideman, Melvin’s strong rhythmic style fit perfectly underneath and in-between Dr. Lonnie’s solos. And when Lonnie made the call, Melvin delivered his own brand of stellar solos one after another. Ulysses was the youngster of the group. He has been an up and coming jazz drummer for the past few years and he definitely carried his weight while commanding mounds of respect on the drums that night.

This show, like any other Dr. Lonnie show, you just never knew what to expect. Wearing his customary long white beard and turban, he kept us on the edge of our seats all night long. “I’m gettin’ too old for this”, Dr. Lonnie jokes with the audience. However, as soon as he started “Freedom Jazz Dance” way up tempo and his fingers floated like a blur across the keys, playing lines that other organist only dream of being able to play, he reminded us very quickly that his age is only a number and that he is still more than capable to perform with a level of mastery that inspires musicians from every generation. While the night was filled with Lonnie’s trademarked soulful entertainment, the crowd favorite was a beautiful ballad that Lonnie said he was going to “do it a little differently” and that everyone “would know it when they heard it.” As Melvin and Ulysses waited wide-eyed, praying that they would be able to recognize the tune, Lonnie began playing one of the most beautifully lush organ ballads that you’d ever hear. Actually to this day, I think Dr. Lonnie’s the only person that actually knows what tune it was. The only thing that everyone in the room was certain of, was that we had just witnessed Dr. Lonnie Smith perform a miracle on stage.

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