By DAN BILAWSKY (All About Jazz)
Dr. Lonnie Smith has always addressed organ traditions on his own terms. He seems to intentionally avoid clichés and marketplace trends, preferring instead to chart his own course, so it's beautifully ironic that he's become something of a trendy figure-to-follow for the jazz-meets-jam crowd. While Smith recently attained septuagenarian status, he shows no signs of developing a conservative crust or going musically gentle into that good night. The Healer, culled from material recorded at the 2011 Lamantin Jazz Festival in Hungary and a date at New York's Jazz Standard in early 2012, is brimming with the bold, bizarre and beautiful.
Four of the six songs that make up this record appeared in some shape or form on recent Smith releases—Rise Up! (Palmetto, 2009) or Spiral (Palmetto, 2010)—but this isn't just more of the same. These stages gave Smith a chance to develop what he laid down in the studio and he revels in the opportunity to explore in full. His reputation as a world class, in-the-moment surgeon of sound is upheld here as he doles out stuttered phrases over a Portishead-sounding, trip-hop-meets-rock back drop ("Backtrack"), mixes keyboard oddities and loose offerings into a cranking, wholly electrified take on a tune associated with trumpet great Lee Morgan ("Beehive"), and strolls through easy-going funk with style ("Dapper Dan").
Drummer Jamire Williams' balance of restraint and fire is essential in the development of dynamic arcs in these performances, but it's guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg who proves to be the biggest attention grabber. His solo on "Backtrack" is a brilliantly paced statement of modernism and he finds the right balance between churchy beauty and Allman Brothers soul on "Pilgrimage," which shifts from a sedate, vocal-enhanced gospel-meets-R&B sound to a lively, praise-and-hallelujah stomp.
The Healer marks a new chapter in Smith's life, due to the fact that it serves as the inaugural release on his own Pilgrimage Productions imprint, but it's a continuation of the story that he's writing with this winning trio.