Live at the Club Mozambique
Mr. Smith, Working in the Long Shadow of Mr. Brown
For a long time in the late '60s and '70s, players from all corners of popular music found themselves under the spell of James Brown. With his severe, instantly identifiable groove, the Godfather of Soul established a rhythm aesthetic that spread quickly—pop guitarists copped the articulate rhythm parts, jazz drummers emulated the precision-machined patterns. Even a fleet-fingered technician like Lonnie Smith, the organ player, caught the bug: When he really gets going on "Love Bowl" from this sizzling live date, Smith abandons jazz entirely in order to attack a single chord over and over again. That's how Brown played the organ (see Soul Pride: The Instrumentals, p. 121), and Smith's accompanists, already tuned to the JB funk frequency, pick up the reference. They put a little extra grease into the backbeats, encouraging Smith to carry his jabbing repetitions further into the twilight zone.
Smith's group includes frequent accomplices George Benson on guitar and Ronnie Cuber on baritone saxophone, the core band that drives Benson's 1966 major-label debut It's Uptown. Here, playing Smith's original blues and boogaloo tunes, the musicians focus on the simple percolating JB-style vamps, and slip the cerebral jazz stuff into the solos—check out the blazing-fast "Seven Steps to Heaven" and "Scream," which features a roaring turn by Cuber and one of the most earthy, gut-level statements Benson ever recorded.
Brown's counterintuitive approach to rhythm—that mix of exactitude and nonchalance—is something special. It is one reason this record, which was made on an average night in 1970 at Detroit's famed Club Mozambique, eclipses just about everything filed under soul-jazz, including important works by saxophonist Lou Donaldson and guitarist Grant Green. Lots of jazz musicians respected James Brown; few were able to extend his ideas the way Smith and his group do here.
Released: 1995, Blue Note
Key Tracks: "Scream," "Love Bowl," "Seven Steps to Heaven."
Catalog Choice: Boogaloo to Beck
Next Stop: Lou Donaldson: Everything I Play Is Funky
After That: George Benson: It's Uptown
Book Pages: 718–719