Johnny "Hammond" Smith

Wild Horses Rock Steady

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Johnny Hammond's 1972 soul-jazz beauty is another stunning example of great creativity at Creed Taylor's Kudu label through the mid-'70s. Arranged by Bob James, Hammond's trademark B-3 work is showcased here on six extended cover versions of tunes from the pop vernacular. The lineup includes guitarists George Benson, Eric Gale, and Melvin Sparks, saxophonists Grover Washington, Jr. and Pepper Adams, bassist Ron Carter (playing electric as well as double bass), and drummers Bernard Purdie and Billy Cobham! There are grooves galore in this wondrously mixed set, from the smoking guitar breaks in the read of Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" to the syncopated organ pyrotechnics in "It's Impossible," with Washington playing his ass off around Hammond's organ breaks, and the beautiful horn arrangements by James in "Peace Train." The funky-butt glimmer in "I Don't Know How to Love Him" could have been played by the Stax/Volt horns with a Funk Brothers rhythm section. James weaves a string section in harmonic counterpoint to Hammond's organ in the melody, creating a moving tapestry of textures against the backbeat. But nothing can prepare the listener for the closing cover of Jagger and Richard's "Wild Horses," with a military snare beat providing an unlikely intro to an "All Along the Watchtower"-like progression that transforms itself seamlessly into a darkly minor reading of the original melody, with beautiful fills by Benson and Sparks. When the horns kick in during the refrain with plenty of fuzz guitar and bass over the top, the listener falls headlong into the magic of dirty groove and roll.

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