Friday, July 22, 2022

Economy and Efficiency: Jimmy Smith, "House Party"

Jimmy Smith, House Party (Blue Note, 2000)

The five pieces on this CD were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder on two late-1950s dates in New York City. The recordings of Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave,” “Lover Man,” and Parker’s “Confirmation” (not originally included on the LP) were captured in February 1958, while “Just Friends” and Kenny Burrell’s “Blues After All” were recorded in August 1957. Both were solid sessions, though there’s a little more energy and innovation in the 1957 tracks, with “Au Privave” being particularly lively.

I learned something from Robert Levin’s original liner notes, something I should have already known having listened to more than my share of jazz and volunteering as a jazz DJ for WNUR-FM for a number of years. That realization was that players of the organ—Jimmy Smith’s instrument on this album—maintain not just the chordal and melodic lines, similar to playing the piano, but that they also play the bass line by way of foot pedals. (How did I not know this?) So there emerge two kinds of jazz organists: those who play the organ like a piano, and those who play the organ as an organ. Smith is decidedly in the latter camp, and his foot-powered bass lines are occasionally surprisingly active and intricate while he’s also playing the keyboard to impressive effect.

In fact, no bassist is credited. None was needed. Smith was joined by Lee Morgan on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Lou Donaldson and George Coleman on alto saxophone, Tina Brooks on tenor saxophone, Kenny Burrell and Eddie McFadden on guitar, and Art Blakey and Donald Bailey on drums. Most of the pieces on the album utilize a sextet setting, while “Lover Man” relies on a quartet.

Similar to Smith’s beginning as a pianist before moving to organ—and embracing the instrument fully—Coleman later shifted from the alto (with his recording debut on a 1955 B.B. King hit) to the tenor. I was particularly struck by Donaldson and Brooks’s solos, as well as the guitar solo by McFadden on “Love Man.”

Bob Blumenthal’s CD reissue liner notes, “A New Look at House Party,” offer additional details about the recording dates. The sessions documented here yielded enough material for two albums, this and The Sermon, which Blumenthal recommends listening to in combination with House Party. An earlier series of recording sessions in February 1957 offered enough music for a total of five albums. While the notion of a musical group is different and more fluid in jazz than in other forms of music—and while recording sessions are also different—non-jazz bands could learn something from such recording economy and efficiency.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD doesn’t include this album among its recommendations. Instead, it suggests Smith’s first three albums and the 1957 live recording Groovin’ at Smalls’ Paradise. Regardless, I recommend this record, if not just for Donaldson’s alto on the Parker pieces. The five pieces make for quite a house party, one I'd definitely attend.

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