Lonnie Liston Smith: Jazz Is Dead 17

The cosmic keyboard man teams up with Adrian Younge and Ali Shaeed Muhammad to give his take on the perennial question of what jazz is


After settling in New York in the early 1960s, Lonnie Liston Smith played piano with many leading jazz musicians, among them Betty Carter, Roland Kirk, Art Blakey, Max Roach and Pharoah Sanders and in the following decade he played with Gato Barbieri and Miles Davis. It was at the latter’s urging that he began playing electric piano.

Also at this time he formed Cosmic Echoes, continuing with this group into the mid-1980s. Throughout these years, Smith was always at the forefront of crossover changes, notably fusion, and sometimes touched the edges of free jazz.

During this same period, he played on numerous albums, some as leader, but from the 1990s and on to the present day his recordings have been relatively few. Meanwhile, he has toured extensively and, perhaps a resulting side effect, has attracted attention in other areas of contemporary music, with a dozen or more excerpts from his records being sampled on releases by artists from hip-hop onwards.

The instrumentalists brought together here play a selection of original works by Smith with enthusiastic verve and seemingly effortless skill. The spotlight mostly shines on the leader who displays invention and flair akin to that of his work in earlier decades and throughout he belies the fact that he is now in his 80s. Thanks largely to Adrian Younge’s multiple instruments, the ensemble sound is much richer than might be expected from only four musicians.

There are three songs from Loren Oden, all with his own lyrics, whose vocal sound is in the tradition of the gentler side of R&B and soul, and he also appears wordlessly on the closing track. Some of the themes heard here are familiar, having been in Smith’s repertoire from the outset of his recording career, but they are attacked with refreshing vigour and enthusiasm.

This album should have considerable appeal to fans of modern jazz – that term applying here in its broadest sense.

(1) Love Brings Happiness; Dawn; Cosmic Changes; Gratitude; Love Can Be; Fête; (2) Kaleidoscope; What May Come; A New Spring (34.03)
(1) Smith (p, kyb); Adrian Younge (g, elg, elb, sps, clavinet, vib, pc, org, etc); Ali Shaheed Muhammad (elp); Greg Paul (d); Loren Oden (v on tracks 1, 3, 5). Los Angeles, 20-22 February 2020.
(2) as (1) except Malachi Morehead (d) repl. Paul; Oden (v on track 9). Los Angeles, 20-22 February 2020.
Jazz Is Dead JID 017