Johnny "Hammond" Smith

Open House

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Not every album that Johnny "Hammond" Smith recorded in the 1960s was a masterpiece, but the best ones were textbook examples of funky, blues-drenched organ jazz. Two of his more solid and memorable LPs from that decade were Open House and A Little Taste, both of which the ubiquitous Orrin Keepnews produced for Riverside in 1963. The albums were out of print for many years, but, in 2001, Fantasy reissued them back to back on this 69-minute CD (which Fantasy put out on Milestone, but could have just as easily put out on Riverside since it owns the Riverside catalog). Smith covers his bases on these 1963 sessions, which find him joined by such noteworthy soloists as Thad Jones or Virgil Jones on trumpet and Houston Person or Seldon Powell on tenor sax. The organist's enthusiastic performances of "I Remember You" and Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream" are the essence of hard bop exuberance, while his lyrical, romantic side asserts itself on "Why Was I Born," the dreamy "Cyra," and the lovely, Johnny Hodges-influenced "Eloise." And on "Twixt the Sheets," Smith savors the pleasure of a slow, down-home blues groove. This CD offers abundant proof of the fact that 1960s soul-jazz and organ combos picked up where Count Basie and Lionel Hampton left off -- in other words, Smith and his colleagues provided accessible, gritty, emotionally direct jazz that you didn't have to be an intellectual to comprehend. Again, not everything that Smith recorded in the 1960s was mind-blowing, but you certainly can't go wrong with this rewarding CD.

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