Recording of April 2001: Dot Com Blues

JIMMY SMITH: Dot Com Blues
Jimmy Smith, Hammond B-3 organ; Russell Malone, Phil Upchurch, guitar; Reggie McBride, electric bass; Harvey Mason, drums; Lennie Castro, percussion. Guest: Dr. John, vocal, piano;, Etta James, vocal; B.B. King, Taj Mahal, vocals, guitars; Keb' Mo,' vocals. Horn section: Darrell Leonard, trumpet, arr.; Oscar Brashear, Leslie Drayton, trumpets; Herman Riley, Joe Sublett, saxes; George Bohanon, Maurice Spears, trombones
Verve 314 549 978-2 (CD). 2000. John Porter, prod.; Rik Pekkonen, eng. DDD. TT: 60:43
Performance ****
Sonics *****

Hoist a high five for Jimmy Smith. Late in his career, this innovator on the Hammond B-3 organ, who will turn 76 in December, is making waves. On his late-'90s albums Damn! (Verve 314 527 631-2) and Angel Eyes (Verve 314 527 632-2), he recorded with young jazz stars Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, and Christian McBride, among others. Now, on Dot Com Blues, Smith teams up with a gang of bluesmeisters and one bluesmeistress.

This is the Jimmy Smith of such classic late-'50s/early-'60s Blue Note dates as The Sermon (46097 2) and Back at the Chicken Shack (46402 2)—the man who not only reinvented the B-3 as a modern jazz vehicle, but ushered in a new genre, soul/funk/jazz, by blending bebop with gospel and blues. He played jazz clubs as well as the chitlin' circuit, that group of clubs on the East Coast and in nearby climes that specialized in organ-guitar-drums trios. Smith influenced almost every jazz organist for close to a decade—players like Brother Jack McDuff and Johnny "Hammond" Smith. Not until Larry Young came along in the early '60s did anyone budge Smith's domination and musical voice on the plugged-in monster.

Since those early days, Smith's musical journey has been like a roller coaster. He's made more than 65 albums, some great, some forgettable, but Dot Com Blues rides the top of a crest. The album is smartly produced, evenly divided between instrumental and vocal tracks, and despite its focus on the blues, there's enough sincerity, authenticity, and plain panache from all hands to keep it motoring along nicely. Anyone remotely into swinging jazz and blues—male and female alike—can get with this collection of numbers that make you move.

Three of the 11 tracks have a snazzy big-band feel, and Dr. John's "Only In It for the Money" typifies their vigor and allure. This is happy music, driven by Harvey Mason's lookee-here backbeat, the horn section, and Smith's blues-rich statements. A gravelly vocal chorus from Dr. John alternates with one featuring Smith up-front and center: a winning concept. "I Just Want to Make Love to You" has ample bite, sparked by singer Etta James' animated pleas and a won't-quit shuffle beat from Mason and Reggie McBride. Keb' Mo's "Over & Over" is oozing-slow, giving the organist room to noodle deftly, his tones sometimes whining, sometimes crooning. A small ensemble backs Taj Mahal's "Strut," which has plenty of punch, as does B.B. King's "Three O'Clock Blues."

On the tunes with just his combo—say, "C.C. Rider" and "Mood Indigo"—Smith is delightfully showcased, scoring again with solid, in-the-pocket stuff, telling stories with melodies and riffs. Also aces is the guitar playing of Russell Malone, who on "8 Counts for Rita" plucks out repeated single notes for rhythmic charge, then unleashes subsequent gushes of blues-tinged lines to great effect. His long, stretched tones and contrasting shorter bursts on "Rider" also deliver the goods.

This sound is nothing if not dynamic. This is live, present stuff: you're up close in the club, and for once the sound man has got it all together. The tracks with horns, vocals, and organ burst with vitality. Still, details rule, with slight conga slaps audible under the supporting horns and the headlining vocals, organ, and guitar. There's even more crispness in the small-group tracks. Malone's guitar rings and shimmers, and Smith's tones, from fat to approaching shrillness, entrance as they waft, pushed in front of your ears by those rotating Leslie speakers. Time and again, I smiled at how I kept looking at my speakers for the source of the sound, yet heard the music coming from between them.—Zan Stewart