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.
Smith’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.