Being a man of deep faith – in fact, lead pastor at Effective Life Church, which he founded with his wife in Conyers, GA – Jimmie Smith surely appreciates the glorious divine irony in having been blessed with the same blazing talent for the Hammond B-3 as a legend with essentially the same name.
Paying homage to the great Jimmy Smith (who died in 2005) while illustrating the vast present and future possibilities for this iconic instrument, Jimmie caps a lifetime of ministry and a simmering passion for jazz, blues and gospel with his highly anticipated, cleverly titled Woodward Avenue debut Live In Music City: Jimmie Smith Plays Jimmy Smith. The explosive ten track, 80 minute live performance was recorded in July 2014 as a “Tribute to the Hammond Legend” in front of a revved up audience of over 200 Smith and Smith enthusiasts at The Rutledge in Nashville.
The set works on a multitude of levels, depending on the era one’s blues/jazz sensibilities took root. If you grew up listening to Jimmy Smith’s 50’s-70’s heyday recordings, it’s a supercharged dash down memory lane. For those unfamiliar with Jimmy’s classics but who love what the B-3 brings to those genres, it’s an entry point down the coolest musical rabbit hole ever – and a tightly grooving, improvisation rich generation bridging opus connecting a modern master of the instrument with the enduring legacy of its greatest icon.
The set opens with a hard-swinging, horn drenched romp through Lalo Schifrin’s spirited and increasingly fiery “The Cat.” The arrangement showcases Smith’s jubilant interaction with the crisp, nimble guitar of James DaSilva and includes openings for wild organ solos grounded by a he funky grooves of drummer Marcus Finnie and buoyed by the occasional horn sizzle. That’s the first of many Jimmy Smith classics tackled by the younger Smith and his dynamic band, which features a second Hammond organist (and pianist) named Paul Brown (no relation to the guitarist!). Most of the other songs are more expansive, starting with the hypnotic slow simmering “Get Yourself A College Girl,” which begins as a spotlight for DaSilva’s masterful guitar work before he gives way for a powerhouse trumpet solo by one third of the horn section, Jon-Paul Frappier. Smith takes a supporting role until halfway through, when he lets loose with an extended plucky, otherworldly solo.
Smith and company take another Jimmy chestnut, “Midnight Special,” out to 12 minutes. It’s a sexy and danceable, easy swinging, horn-tinged blues jam all the way, with Smith bubbling soulfully behind the horns and playing a beautiful supporting role for several of the concert’s most emotional solos: a passionate, improvisation-rich adventure by tenor man Chris West, a blistering response by DaSilva and a bravura acoustic piano slam by Brown. Next, in a daring reflection of the joys of faith, the modern B-3 master cleverly pairs the late legend’s churchy, coolly soulful reflection “The Sermon” (cue one of Smith’s most freewheeling solos) with James Brown’s always rambunctious “I Feel Good.”
Humorously asking forgiveness for switching gears to a decidedly un-churchy blues classic, he eases from the musical pulpit to the role of mad blues sideman on the brisk and frisky, Muddy Waters-popularized classic “I’ve Got My Mojo Working,” with the easy soul vocals of guest Bishop Dr. Jeronn C. Williams. Though it’s not a religious song, there is truly something transcendent happening when his voice fronts those the percussive horn trio and the brass rises towards the end like a Stax jam.
The second half of the set begins with Smith sandwiching a scorching, hard rockin’ jet propulsion through another Jimmy classic, “Root Down,” with a the colorful autobiographical mid-tempo ballad with horns galore, “I Really Love My Hammond” (and by his jumping solo, we know it’s true!) and trippy, almost psychedelic rock twist on the gospel classic “Oh Happy Day.” It’s a triumphant statement that uses music to declare that while Jimmie Smith’s worlds are blues and gospel, he’s got the heart of a rock and roller too! Live In Music City wraps with an extended jam (starting with an extended Marcus Finnie drum solo) through another Jimmy hit “Funky Broadway” and a Jimmie original, “Only God Can,” which is an opportunity to declare his faith and trust in the Lord no matter the trials life brings.
Jimmie Smith’s intention with Live in Music City is to carry the classic B-3 ensemble sound back out for people to hear and appreciate once again. That’s where his heart is throughout a truly amazing set driven by the soul-stirring energy and exciting atmosphere of the band and great audience interaction. It will entice people not only to listen, but to get out and see these cats live the first chance they get!