Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #609:
Jimmy Smith – Midnight Special
Conventional wisdom is that Back at the Chicken Shack is the great Hammond B3 jazz organist’s alltime classic (although pretty much everything the guy ever recorded is worth hearing). We picked this 1963 release A) to be perverse, B) because the tracks are a little better, and lesser-known, and C) because it’s everything BUT Smith’s signature shuffle grooves. Everything on both albums was recorded in a single day – to say that Smith and his band (Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Donald Bailey on drums and Kenny Burrell guesting on guitar on three tracks) were on top of their game is an understatement. Basie’s One O’Clock Jump gets a terse, biting blues treatment, alongside Bird’s Jumpin’ the Blues, while Why Was I Born? makes funk out of the Rodgers/Hammerstein showtune. Turrentine’s A Subtle One is a wickedly catchy song without words; the title track, a straight-up blues, swings with a jaunty, summery joy. Here’s a random torrent via Oufar Khan.
Fabrizio Sotti may be best known as a producer, someone who’s worked with hip-hop luminaries like Dead Prez, Ghostface Killah and reggae toaster Half Pint (and also some who are less than luminary). He’s also a thoughtful, stylistically diverse jazz guitarist. What he seems to be going for on his latest album Inner Dance is an update on the expansively playful vibe of those Wes Montgomery/Jimmy Smith albums from the 60s. This is a feel-good story in more ways than one: halfway through recording, Sotti’s hard drive died and he lost everything (yet another argument for the benefits of two-inch tape). And he also lost the services of bassist James Genus, who’d played on the original tracks but whose schedule had become too busy to accommodate further recording. So Sotti brought in B3 organist Sam Barsh, and suddenly they had a new vibe to work with. What they ended up with is actually a very 80s sounding album – but 80s in a good way. Sotti frequently utilizes a watery chorus-box tone, Barsh alternating between tasteful atmospherics and good-natured exuberance. Victor Jones handles the drum work with a crafty understatement, with Mino Cinelu taking over the throne on the title track.
They open with a gently purposeful swing blues, and then the acoustic guitar ballad Kindness in Your Eyes, Sotti negotiating his way through it nimbly, with some nifty tremolo-picking over atmospheric waves of organ. They segue into the title track: finally Sotti kicks into gear with a very Wes solo after an interminable one by guest harmonica player Gregoire Maret, then segue out and pick up the pace with I Thought So, a showcase for fluidly dancing, staccato fretwork and bubbly, classically-tinged arpeggiation by Barsh. Amanecer, a cowrite with brilliant Chilean soul/jazz chanteuse Claudia Acuña (who also sings on the track) has an aptly hushed beauty, Sotti’s flights up and down the scale midway through the song wisely and poignantly restrained. A Michael Brecker homage, Brief Talk actually more closely resembles the blue-sky ambience that Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays were mining circa As Falls Wichita. Then they pick up the pace with the best of the upbeat numbers here, Last Chance, offer a tribute to Monk with the swinging, artfully voiced Mr. T.M. and close with a brief, ruminative nylon-string solo vignette. When he’s not behind the board, Sotti is sought after as a sideman: one listen to this album and the reason for his popularity becomes clear.