Dr. Lonnie Smith Octet Gesu, Montreal QC, June 30
Published Jul 02, 2014Hammond organ soul jazz guru Dr. Lonnie Smith has frequented the Montreal Jazz fest, but he pulled out all the (organ) stops with his new octet. Of these eight black-clad, sharp-suited men, five constituted a meaty horn section, while Smith held down centre stage flanked by guitar and drums. This enjoyable show did one thing extremely right: constantly ratcheting up the excitement with each successive solo. It's not that Smith is the most incredible organist ever — Facebook seems to be full of borderline geniuses toiling away in Baptist churches who have more chops, sonic invention and harmonic mobility — but he`s got soul, as does everyone else he plays with. When he sustains a chord, you feel it. With so many horns, things unfolded slowly, as everyone had to blow many choruses to make their mark with songs north of ten minutes.
Through it all, Smith had the countenance of a supreme soul guru, as he seemed to absorb each crescendo that other players came up with and incorporated it into his own playing. The music filled him with happiness, which in turn reflected back onto the crowd. That said, the horns as a section were underused, with tracks like "Slow High" forcing them to repeat the same riffs over and over again for an eternity. There were only brief bursts of five-part harmony or interplay or really anything that really took advantage of the killer baritone sax player, but this was the only disappointment of the evening. Fortunately, the guitarist and drummer were on point throughout. "Turning Point," the last song of the first set, was the highlight of the night, a definitive statement on how exciting things could get as solos pushed the composition to about the 20-minute mark while careening forward like a runaway Soul Train.