Jimmy Smith

Live at the Village Gate

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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos

These sessions live at Art D'Lugoff's Village Gate night club in Greenwich Village on May 31, 1963 were at one point previously unreleased, eventually issued by the short-lived Metro subsidiary of MGM on vinyl sometime after being recorded. The session is barely over 30 minutes, the sound is a bit thin (but not to its detriment), but Smith's playing is peerless as always, and his band with guitarist Quentin Warren and young drummer Billy Hart may be a curiosity for some. Warren is not the best or most adept plectrist Smith had employed, but gets the job done in a quiet, unassuming manner. Well before hitting his stride as a premier progressive jazz performer, Hart's style is set apart from soul-jazz drummers like Donald Bailey, Billy James, or Bernard Purdie, using looser rhythmic associations instead of hard-edged funky beats. The resulting performance is very good in spurts but not overall. As the repertoire was somewhat unfamiliar for Smith and his fans at the time, Hart's off-the-beaten-path rhythm navigation offers the most intrigue. When the trio kicks off with the Ray Charles hit "I Got a Woman," the drummer uses African-type churning rhythms aside Warren's crisp, clipped guitar on this fingersnappin' fave. Hart's use of his upper and lower tom-toms again de-emphasizes straight funk or swing on the midtempo swinger "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" "The Champ" is more along the lines of the classic bop Smith did favor at the time, with Warren's off-minor, angular, out of the ordinary lines a departure from soul-jazz, but falling in line with a Thelonious Monk riff. The careful version of "If I Were a Bell" turns up the sly and seductive quotient, a sedate and secretive melodic inference courtesy of Smith, picking up steam a bit during his solo. One might wonder in retrospect what Smith thought of this date, and though collectors and completists will certainly enjoy the playing of this fine trio, it does remain a sidebar to many of his many other classic live sessions.

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