Fort Lauderdale's Dr. Lonnie Smith is at it again. He's the resident keyboardist (and world-renowned Hammond B3 master) who regularly jams at the two O'Hara's locations. For his latest project, Smith contributed to his old pal and fellow organist Jimmy McGriff's new disc, McGriff's House Party. In the '50s and '60s, McGriff, Smith, and a few other organists, such as Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, and Lonny Liston Smith helped define the burgeoning groove-jazz or soul-jazz genre, which basically is long, instrumental, groove-driven bebop derivatives featuring R&B and gospel elements. It's retro, hip, cocktail-culture music that McGriff and company keeps stylishly alive today.House Party holds true to the groove-jazz formula that says the longer a tune, the better. Most of the eight instrumental songs hover around eight minutes long. Although there is no McGriff original on House Party, the Juilliard alum and former Philadelphia cop surrounded himself with distinctive players who also happen to be adept songwriters.
The idea behind House Party was to create the same vibe in the studio that McGriff created in his Newark, New Jersey, home in the '60s when area musicians would stop by and jam all night. Hanging out during the recording was guitarist George Benson, who was so inspired by the group's vibe after a session that he penned "Red Cadillac Boogaloo." Surely Benson recalled the 1967 Lou Donaldson hit, "Alligator Boogaloo," which paired Dr. Lonnie Smith and Benson together. But the similarities are in titles only. "Red Cadillac Boogaloo" rolls along nicely with a light guitar threaded through the entire song while McGriff and Smith trade organ solos between blasts from the horns of Kenny Rampton and Eric Alexander.
That's pretty much the sound of the entire disc: midtempo groovers with the soloists dancing over the groundwork established by McGriff. The only flat spot on House Party is "That's All," on which McGriff's organ falls into a sleepy interlude with low sustained notes and a droopy key underlying slow guitar strums. Dr. Lonnie Smith comes in with a bit more lively solo, but not even that can bring this limp tune out of the doghouse. "That's All" aside, McGriff's House Party has the universal funk that made groove jazz hip in its heyday and still a good listen today.
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