Hour 16 New Organ Combos – Dr. Lonnie Smith, Organissimo, Deep Blue Organ Trio, William Parker, Swallow Quintet, Joey DeFrancesco

Dr. Lonnie Smith

In 1956, Jimmy Smith created the organ trio of organ, guitar and drums. Soon thereafter, his quartets with Lou Donaldson and Stanley Turrentine defined the organ – saxophone quartet sound. Today, these traditions live on and, although the instrumentation may vary slightly, the debt to Jimmy Smith’s pioneering soul jazz trios and quartets is persistent.

Dr. Lonnie Smith
Perhaps no one grips Jimmy Smith’s torch more tightly than Dr. Lonnie Smith, who started recording with Blue Note in 1967 and is still going strong, releasing five successful records in the last decade, mostly in collaboration with guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg. His 2010 release Spiral includes a soulful version of Jimmy Smith’s tune Mellow Mood.

In 2016, Dr.Lonnie Smith returned to Blue Note records after a long hiatus and released his best disc of the decade, Evolution. On AllAboutJazz, Don Bilawsky wrote, “it’s a real humdinger. Everything we’ve come to expect from him, included the unexpected, is here. The album is populated with raunchy riffs, greasy grooves, soulful sermons, tidal organ shifts, moody statements, hard-hitting solos, and punchy interjections, all of which help to enliven throwback songs, standards, and new pieces alike. This is past, present, and future Smith rolled into one.”

Mellow Mood. Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio
(Dr. Lonnie Smith-org, Jonathan Kreisberg-g, Jamire Williams-d). From Spiral. Palmetto. 2010.
Up Jumped Spring. Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio
(Dr. Lonnie Smith-org, Jonathan Kreisberg-g, Jonathan Blake-d). From All in My Mind. Blue Note. 2017.
Straight No Chaser. Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio
(Dr. Lonnie Smith-org, Jonathan Kreisberg-g, Jonathan Blake-d). From Evolution. Blue Note. 2016.

Covering The Beatles and Stevie Wonder
Lest you think that the Beatles compositions don’t make much of a match with organ trios, remember that guitarist Grant Green covered I Want to Hold Your Hand with Larry Young on organ in 1965. In 2017, the group Organissimo released a disc of Beatles covers as varied as funky versions of Taxman and Come Together and lovely ballad readings of Dear Prudence and While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Longtime bandmates guitarist Bobby Broom, drummer Greg Rockingham and Hammond B-3 organist Chris Foreman took a perhaps more predictable route in their disc Wonderful!, covering the compositions of Stevie Wonder, whose jazz inflected tunes have increasingly been subjects of jazz interpretation. AllAbout Jazz’s Chris Salwecki writes, “Wonder’s music provides tasty sustenance for [the Deep Blue Organ] Trio’s prodigious chops… [Bobby] Broom’s Wonderful! sound is a seamless blend of jazz and blues, playing soul that consistently and insistently wants comparison with master Wes Montgomery. He plays Golden Lady (arranged as a waltz!) in octaves… It’s also remarkable how, through all these tunes, Broom and Foreman uncannily echo the phrasings and textures of Wonder’s original vocals.”

While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Organissimo
(Jim Alfredson-org/p/syn, Lawrence Barris-g, Randy Marsh-d). From B3TLES: A Soulful Tribute to the Fab Four. Big O Records. 2017.
Golden Lady. Deep Blue Organ Trio
(Chris Foreman-org, Bobby Broom-g, Greg Rockingham-d). From Wonderful! Origin. 2012.

Organ – Tenor Sax Combos
Recent years have been punctuated by several terrific outings with tenor sax players coupled to organ ensembles and with some surprising players. In 2010, avant-grade bassist and bandleader William Parker assembled an organ quartet featuring Darrel Foster on tenor to explore soul jazz to honor his Aunt Carrie Lee Edwards and Uncle Joe who inspired him in his youth. Troy Collins described the proceedings on the disc Uncle Joe’s Spirit House as “Embracing, but unconstrained by the nostalgic air of vintage Post-War organ dates, Parker and company keep the proceedings relevant with subtle shades of modernism.”

Carla Bley doesn’t often sit down to the organ, which makes Steve Swallow’s quintet disc Into the Woodwork even more rewarding. Packed with moving compositions from the bandleader’s pen, the disc features Chris Cheek on tenor, Steve Cardenas on guitar and Jorge Rossy on drums in addition to Bley on organ and Swallow on electric bass.

Of Joey DeFrancesco’s release In the Key of the Universe, Chris Mosey wrote, “This is an important, even historic album. It marks—unannounced—the return of a great figure of the free jazz era, Pharoah Sanders. Saxophonist Albert Ayler once famously declared, “Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost.” Hammond organist Joey DeFrancesco has orchestrated Sanders’ return from oblivion.“ When Sanders was first getting exposure as a member of John Coltrane’s adventurous quintet, Jimmy Smith was cranking out prototypical soul jazz with the likes of Wes Montgomery. Now 50 years later, Sanders makes a triumphant return in the company of one of Smith’s most prolific heirs. Jazz makes strange bedfellows indeed.

Ennio’s Tag. William Parker Organ Quartet
(Darryl Foster-ts, Cooper-Moore-org, William Parker-b, Gerald Cleaver-d). From Uncle Joe’s Spirit House. Centering Records. 2010.
Unnatural Causes. Swallow Quintet
(Chris Cheek-ts, Carla Bley-org, Steve Cardenas-g, Steve Swallow-b, Jorge Rossy-d). From Into the Woodwork. Xtra Watt. 2012.
The Butler Did It. Swallow Quintet
(Chris Cheek-ts, Carla Bley-org, Steve Cardenas-g, Steve Swallow-b, Jorge Rossy-d). From Into the Woodwork. Xtra Watt. 2012.
In the Key of the Universe. Joey DeFrancesco Quartet with Pharoah Sanders
(Pharoah Sanders-ts, Troy Roberts-ts/ss/as, Joey DeFrancesco-org, Billy Hart-d, Sammy Figueroa-per). From In the Key of the Universe. Mack Avenue. 2019.

While organ trios and quartets frequently don’t stray far from their roots as one of the archetypical soul jazz formats, there have recently been some exciting variants and surprising players – making great music.

Cilawsky, Dan. (2010, May 18). AllAboutJazz. Dr. Lonnie Smith: Spiral. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/spiral-dr-lonnie-smith-palmetto-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Bilawsky, Dan. (2016, January 4). AllAboutJazz. Dr. Lonnie Smith: Evolution. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/evolution-dr-lonnie-smith-blue-note-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Bilawsky, Dan. (2018, March 9). JazzTimes. Dr. Lonnie Smith: All in My Mind (Blue Note). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/dr-lonnie-smith-all-mind/

McClenaghn, Dan. (2017, April 6). AllAboutJazz. Organissimo: B3Tles: A Soulful Tribute To The Fab Four. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/b3tles-a-soulful-tribute-to-the-fab-four-jim-alfredson-big-o-records-review-by-dan-mcclenaghan.php

Salwecki, Chris M. (2012, June 1). AllAboutJazz. Deep Blue Organ Trio: Wonderful! https://www.allaboutjazz.com/wonderful-deep-blue-organ-trio-origin-records-review-by-chris-m-slawecki.php

Collins, Troy. (2010, October 5). AllAbout Jazz. William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe’s Spirit House. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/uncle-joes-spirit-house-william-parker-aum-fidelity-review-by-troy-collins.php

Kelman, John. (2013, August 21). AllAboutJazz. The Swallow Quintet: Into The Woodwork. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/into-the-woodwork-steve-swallow-xtrawatt-ecm-review-by-john-kelman.php

Mosey, Chris. (2019, February 10). AllAboutJazz. Joey Defrancesco: In The Key Of The Universe. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/in-the-key-of-the-universe-joey-defrancesco-mack-avenue-records-review-by-chris-mosey.php

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