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CD of the Month: Dr. Lonnie Smith – All In My Mind


My favorite CD at the moment is the latest record from Dr. Lonnie Smith.  Officially released on Jan 12, 2018 it is also one of the first CDs I bought in 2018. The album was recorded live during his week-long 75th birthday celebration at the Jazz Standard in New York City, with his longtime trio of guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake. Special guests are Joe Dyson on drums and singer Alicia Olatuja. The album was produced by Blue Note Records boss Don Was and it fits perfectly into the mission of Blue Note to present the future movements of jazz as well as honoring those who forged the tradition.

The first song on the CD is the Wayne Shorter’s classic modal composition “Juju.” Kreisberg shows his virtuosity and his experience with this song, his solo is very well structured and organized and masters the different parts of the tune perfectly. I would even say that this solo is like a reference for all guitar players when studying this song.

Next up is “Devika”,  composed by the late Dave Hubbard, a tenor saxophonist who worked with Dr. Lonnie Smith.  A slow and groovy tune in perfect contrast to “JuJu” and the 3rd song on the album, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon. Joe Dyson replaces Blake behind the drums on this one and the band shows how much fun they have with this song. The first solo goes to Kreisberg who opens his effects box with and an old-fashioned octave sound in the second part of his solo followed by the Dr. with a soaring organ solo.

The band goes back into a balladesque style with Tadd Dameron’s “On a Misty Night”, which starts soft and gentle but develops great dynamics in the improvisation part.

The next two tunes are originals by Lonnie Smith, first “Alhambra” which has a long free introduction on the synthesizer playing strings, flute and trumpet sounds. Kreisberg starts with his rhythm guitar after 3:30 minutes followed by the Dr. playing the head of the tune and then the improvisations start in a jam style, first Kreisberg followed by Smith with standing ovations after almost 10 minutes of playing.

“All In My Mind”, the title song features singer  Alicia Olatuja, one of the rising stars of the New York jazz and gospel scene. Lonnie Smith recorded this song before but decided to play it again. “It’s the right time to be singing this again,” he says, referring to the meditative lyrics that long for a better world. 

The CD ends with the Freddie Hubbard song “Up Jumped Spring,” a tune he wrote to celebrate the spring season, for which we are all waiting after this long and gray winter in the northern hemisphere. Very easy and relaxed played does it also show the great fun the band and the audience had. No hidden message here, no extra statement on top of the great melody, just plain swinging jazz music.

I am a big fan of organ trios and Dr. Lonnie Smith is one of the masters of this genre. The music comes sometimes with a little twist or an extra surprise (like the introduction in “Alhambra”) but always from the heart.  Smith wanted to record “All In My Mind”in a live setting because, as he says, “It’s so hard to capture what I’m feeling at the moment in the studio. Hearing me live is catching me playing in the moment. It’s a good vibe. It’s a loving situation.”

Enjoy this CD and if you have a chance to see Dr. Lonnie Smith live, don’t miss it.

Finally a playlist from iTunes to give you a chance to listen to the songs:

Carl Bartlett, Jr.: PROMISE!

PROMISE! CD Cover FINAL (for Michael's Jazz Blog)

I will start the new year with a review of a CD that has been released on December 14 by Carl Bartlett , Jr., an alto saxophonist and composer from Queens, NY. The album is called “PROMISE!” and Carl has produced and released it on his own label.

He describes his music as Post-Bop/ Straight-Ahead/ Contemporary Jazz, so expect something new , something you have not heard before.

There are 8 songs on the album, all are original material from Carl.

The CD starts with the title song “PROMISE!” and as you can expect from a title with capital letters, the song is a strong statement of what the CD and Carl’s music is all about: After an intro with saxophone and piano the head is moving between 3/4 meter and 4/4 meter and the tonal center moves from Bb to Eb, which gives the the melody a very open feeling. With the solos comes then the rhythmic variation to a halt, but harmonically the two tonal centers continue to exist. Multiple tonal centers is one of the most characteristic elements of contemporary jazz music and we see with Carl a master in composing, arranging and playing this kind of music. Also his fellow musicians convince in this song , Yoichi Uzeki on piano and Sylvia Cuenca on drums shine with their solos.

The second tune, a bossa nova called “High Pizzazz” has a 5/4 meter bridge and modulates between D minor and F# minor with the tonal center as C# major. The first solo here is given to Marcus McLaurine on bass, followed by Carl on alto saxophone. Even if this harmonic structure looks complex, you can follow this song quite easily. According to Carl “High Pizzazz” is a tune where people really connect during a concert and and I am no exception here, this song is one of my favorite tunes an the album.

The third song is called “Dialed In (Like A Laser)” and it starts with the saxophone mimicking a phone call followed by a furious unisono intro for piano and saxophone. The tune is a very fast swing in 11/4 meter with a interesting two bar piano vamp where the 11 beats are split into a 5-3-3 / 3-3-3-2 pattern. The best part of this song is the dialog between piano and drums followed by a great drums solo.

Now it’s time for the ballad “As The Gift Unfolds Before My Eyes”. Yoichi Uzeki on piano plays a beautiful classically inspired intro. The melody has many long notes which are intoned perfectly by  Carl. The first solo goes to  Marcus McLaurine on bass, followed by shorter saxophone and piano solos. 

The next song is called “The Bartlett Family” and it features  Charles Bartlett on trumpet. Charles is Carl’s uncle and he is also responsible for dragging Carl at the age of 14 into jazz music by presenting him a Brecker Brothers album on Christmas Day (to be precise it was the album Dream Suite/New York by Dreams).  After the tunes in odd meters, “The Bartlett Family” sounds like traditional jazz music with it’s 4/4 medium swing and it’s almost regular form. The classic hard-bop quintet cast adds to this impression. Easy to follow and easy to listen, another of my personal favorites.

“Ethereal Heartbeats” starts with a very freely improvised bass intro, followed by an enchanting melody in 5/4 meter. The solos are played over an 5/4 meter medium slow bossa nova and a 4/4 double time samba. These tempo changes and how light and easy the whole band stays on time is very impressive.

“Fidgety Season” is the seventh song on the CD and this song was recorded before on Carl’s first album “Hopeful”. The tune is a 3/4 medium swing with solos for piano, bass, saxophone and drums. It comes with a nice melody and very pushing pulse in the saxophone solo. Carl told me that he recorded the song again because the audience likes it so much so he wanted to give a kind of deja-vu to the listeners (another reason is the little story around this song about Carl’s students becoming fidgety in June), so here you have the official Carl Bartlett, Jr. hymn.

The CD finishes with “It’s Been So Grand”, a 24-bar blues in F key in best Charlie Parker tradition, very fast and with a chromatic melody played unisono by saxophone and trumpet. The solos are either in one key (trumpet) or are alternating between the F and B key (piano, saxophone).

As a summary I have to say, the CD contains outstanding material, played excellently be very experienced and sophisticated musicians that understand the material very well. The band is playing together for quite some time and you can hear that, the interplay is impressive.

Charles Bartlett as guest brings extra richness in sound but also a kind of traditional approach which helps the listener to relax a little bit.

The mastering and the overall sound quality is also outstanding, all instruments are clear and distinct.

All songs were recorded live so when you go to a concert you can expect the same kind of mastery.

Carl was so generous to send me the lead sheets to all the songs which helped me a lot to see through all the rich material that has been provided on this album.

I tried to explain the structure of the songs to give you a head start when listening to the CD. Please take your time to explore new territories, it’s worth.



From left to right: Yoichi Uzeki (piano), Charles Bartlett (trumpet), Sylvia Cuenca (drums), Marcus McLaurine (bass), Carl Bartlett, Jr. (saxophone)

If you want to know more about Carl, please go to his website. It has updates on shows and links to order the CD. Enjoy.