2021, 2×12″ LP, Blue Note.
Veteran Hammond B-3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith pairs with punk icon Iggy Pop on his inspired and deeply funky 2021 album Breathe. Smith initially came into his own in the 1960s, releasing a string of groove-based albums for Blue Note, including 1968’s Think!, that helped define the sound of forward-thinking organ jazz. Over 30 years after his last album for Blue Note, he returned to the label with 2016’s vibrant Evolution and 2018’s All in My Mind; albums that found him recapturing the earthy energy of his original recordings. Continuing this latter-career resurgence, Breathe again finds him working with producer Don Was, and backed by an energetic ensemble of all-stars including guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake, who make up his core trio. He also expands the group to a septet on several tracks, bringing trumpeter Sean Jones, tenor saxophonist John Ellis, baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall, and trombonist Robin Eubanks on board. Smith’s work with Pop bookends that album as they offer a smoky, Doors-esque rendition of Timmy Thomas’ 1972 soul anthem “Why Can’t We Live Together” and a relaxed, boogaloo-style work-up of Donovan’s ’60s classic “Sunshine Superman.” Both of these songs were recorded in studio and feature added percussion from Richard Bravo. They are wry, ebullient recordings that make a surprising case for Pop as a jazz crooner. The core of the album finds Smith leading his band through a series of energetic performances captured live at The Jazz Standard in New York City. Among these are several inspired Smith originals including “Bright Eyes,” a breezy 3/4 anthem that brings to mind his ’60s work. Equally engaging are the slow-grooving “Track 9,” which spotlights a fiery solo from trumpeter Jones, and the gospel-inflected “Pilgrimage,” featuring vocalist Alicia Olatuja. Smith also jumps into a bug-like take on Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” that evokes the spacy sound of Herbie Hancock’s 1973 Sextant album. Few legacy artists are as capable at conjuring the urgency and youthful energy of their classic recordings as Smith has been since returning to Blue Note, and Breathe is no exception. – All Music