Johnny "Hammond" Smith

Soul Flowers

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When a soul-jazz artist decides to devote the bulk of his album to pop standards and themes from the movies, stage, and TV, he better make damn sure that he interprets them in an inventive fashion. Fortunately, that's what Smith manages to do on this 1967 session, heading a sextet with guitar, tenor saxes, conga, bass, and drums. The opening "Theme from N.Y.P.D." sets the table for his irreverence, as the band pounds out a cool, jazzy spy theme with police whistles and sirens whirring constantly in the background, adding the right gimmicky touch as surely as the foghorn does in Frankie Ford's "Sea Cruise." What really makes the album a success (the bulk of its material) is the sense of humor Smith and the other musicians bring to the arrangements, doodling busily on the melody lines and totally reworking the tempos so that something like "Ode to Billie Joe" will sound appropriate, rather than forced, as a funky acid jazz tune. It takes a lot to make "You'll Never Walk Alone" work in this genre, and Smith pulls this off too, throwing in strutting, rapid-fire key changes and a false ending. Also grooving is the bossa nova beat on "Here's That Rainy Day," which allows guitarist Wally Richardson some good solo space. The one original on the record, "Dirty Apple," has a more serious, straightforward blues-funk grind that isn't too different from Booker T. & the MG's. The 1999 CD reissue of Soul Flowers tacks the entirety of the 1968 album Dirty Grape (recorded with the same musicians) onto the same disc.

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