Dr Lonnie Remedies Ronnie's With Waves Of His Magic Wand

Lonnie-Smith

Improvising musicians have been at the forefront of technology for many years. Dr. Lonnie Smith's memorable declaration that the Hammond B-3 organ is 'the first synthesiser' proves more topical than ever in this mesmerising performance, as his use of the instrument's two keyboards, numerous drawbars and bass pedals produces a polychrome wall of sound that has lost none of the futurism it sported back in the 1930s when the likes of Fats Waller and Count Basie were letting rip with the 'church pianna'. However, few could have foreseen how ahead of the game remains the 75-year-old, whose latest album All In My Mind is a welcome addition to his 1960s and 1970s classics such as Move Your Hand, Turning Point and Afrodesia, works that saw him make soul-jazz wade in thrillingly pyschedelic water. After flooring the faithful with a consummate display of the art of the organ trio, in which Smith, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Xavier Breaker create an enticing blend of burning high notes, gospelised themes, choppy, distorted riffs and ricochet snare shots, Smith pulls the rug from under the audience's feet. With the cute, jaunty bossa nova take on Paul Simon's '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover' still reverberating around the room, he gingerly stands up, his long lilac shirt, indigo turban, brown love beads and white beard making him a picture of prophet-like elegance. He then starts to produce a series of dazzling electronic huffs and hiccoughs, the source of which is not entirely clear for those of us docked at the bar. He gradually moves from the stage. There is an audible gasp from the front row as a tremor of primal sub-bass accompanies his slow tour. He is holding a walking stick. It sparkles like a light sabre, though. He strums the prop like a bass guitar, his thumb cocked like Marcus, and the resonance sharpens as it becomes clear that there is tension running through the device, and that texture and tonality shift according to where and with what force it is struck. There are slides up and down the neck to create a bullying boom worthy of a sound system, but the effect is all the more visceral because the 'axe' is being swung almost like a benign weapon, right under the nose of certain diners. "I bet your grandfather doesn't do that, huh!" quips Smith at one punter beaming with delight as the 'magic stick' casts a spell around her table. Designed specially for Smith by Andy Graham, the instrument is almost like a string-less Chapman stick, but any shock value it holds is more than surpassed by the verve with which Smith draws a wide range of supersonic funky sensations from its hi-tech fuselage. As he showed through renditions of standards such as 'On A Misty Night' and smart new originals like 'Pilgrimage', Smith still has an iron grip on both the orchestral romanticism of the Hammond as well as its ability to delicately craft ambient soundscapes, which is further emphasised by the use of a korg synth and electronic percussion unit. But the 'stick thang' sees the doctor reach for the future while staying deeply rooted in the past, his time travel a joy to behold as he switches off his electro cane and gracefully exits the stage like the wisest of elders.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Carl Hyde

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