When Lonnie Smith cut Boogaloo to Beck in 2003 he made a comeback, though he was never gone in the first place. That record's deeply grooving, funky soul-jazz cut to the chase in a way many jazz organ records hadn't by taking the Blue Note aesthetic of turning the pop tunes of the day -- even those as esoteric as Beck Hansen's -- and turning them into vehicles for jazz improvisation. On Jungle Soul, the great organist and his quartet -- Peter Bernstein on guitar, drummer and percussionist Allison Miller, and rhythm guitarist/producer Matt Balitsaris -- tackle some jazz standards -- "Bemsha Swing," "Willow Weep for Me," and Eddie Harris' bona fide soul-jazz classic "Freedom Jazz Dancer" -- and place them against Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," and a handful of Smith originals and come up with a stunner. As the band digs deep into funky twists and turns on the Gaye number, they come out all sleek and smoky on "Simone," carrying the cut in a minor groove. The title cut is a Smith tune that swaggers from East to West with an African folk melody held inside a shimmering soul context. The layered percussion in the band's read of Harris' classic keeps the edges and angles of the original, while lending a finger-popping, booty-shaking strut to its backbeat. The interplay between Bernstein and Smith is taut, and full of playful asides. The strange modal guitar part Bernstein plays on "Bemsha Swing" is in stark contrast to Smith's for the note head, but it gives the entire track a late-night quality that's a bit more contemplative and moody than Monk's signature version. But it works beautifully. In sum, Jungle Soul is among the finer post-1970 records that Smith has cut, and this band is one of those intuitive, tight, and instinctive quartet's that understands their leader's every move.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek