Johnny "Hammond" Smith

Gambler's Life

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Exposing a jazz purist to most recordings involving Fonce and Larry Mizell is much like shoving a vampire into daylight. Gambler's Life, the first of two Johnny "Hammond" Smith albums featuring the brothers' ambitious handiwork, isn't an exception. Watch a purist seek shelter in his dank cave whenever this album is within earshot. Smith switches to Fender Rhodes for most of the material, and the Mizells bring their ARPs, spirited if unpolished group vocal arrangements, wah-wah guitars, and soaring instrumental arrangements made to shine on the dancefloor. Strong throughout, the album runs as efficiently and as sweetly as any other groove-heavy album of its time. "Rhodesian Thoroughfare" is the most unique cut, trading off frenzied suspense-building sequences and breathless gallops. "Back to the Projects" is a brisk gust of cool air on a hot August afternoon, possibly the most densely structured composition connected to Larry Mizell. Only "Call On Me" brings the mood down to a state of blissed relaxedness; otherwise, you're body will be moving. Despite all the complex Mizellian layering at play, Smith shoots through it all, ringing loud and gloriously clear. Originally released by Salvation -- a CTI offshoot set up by Creed Taylor for releases not involving him or Rudy Van Gelder -- the album has been issued on CD by Expansion in the U.K.

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