Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio (Jazz Standard 01.12.18)
I stood in the doorway as three young men walked up to the maitre d’s desk. Two were average height and the third, who spoke, a bit taller. They were all in their late teens or early twenties and wore nice winter jackets and faded navy blue jeans. Each had a bit of a beard and one wore glasses. Two had hair that was not long but was slightly unkempt and the third wore a knit winter cap pulled up so that it stood a little bit tall on his head.
Guitar nerds. I whispered to the other host who stood beside me. Definitely.
The first time I saw Dr. Lonnie Smith and Jonathan Kreisberg billed together as part of the “Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio” with Johnathan Blake I raised my eyebrows a little and made a curious sort of noise like “hm.”
Dr. Lonnie Smith and Jonathan Kreisberg are something of an unusual combination. Dr. Lonnie’s music is sort of marinated in the funk and R&B of 1960s hard bop and Blue Note jazz. Kreisberg plays a newer aggressive and angular sort of cerebral New York jazz. Dr. Lonnie’s improvisations are jaunty and rhythmic; restrained but relaxed. Kreisberg’s bound through changes with avalanches of notes. Dr. Lonnie prods his rhythm sections with jabs and bursts of chords; fits and starts and sudden turns. Kreisberg rides the accompaniment on endless streams of impeccably arranged, perfectly articulated, reverb-drenched pitches.
In January, however, they began a stretch at the Jazz Standard during which they celebrated the release of Dr. Lonnie’s most recent record All in My Mind. For a moment during the first tune of their Friday night show, I stood against the curtain that separated the bar area from the bathrooms and stared down the aisle to the stage as Dr. Lonnie sat behind the orange wood of the Hammond organ he leaves at the club for his performances. Eyes closed peacefully, he sat punching and plucking and climbing and coaxing the keys as Kreisberg stood rocking on his knees with his face scrunched in a grimace. A cascade of aggressively articulated notes exploded from the silver grill of the amplifier situated on the left wall of the stage.
As the first set progressed, Kreisberg became subdued at points. At others, his endless sequences and tommy gun bursts of notes pushed the music in fascinating directions. After the set, I ran from table to table to kitchen to table to kitchen with trays of glasses as the crowd began to filter out. After the tables were clear of half-empty bourbons on rocks and plates smeared with barbecue sauce or burger fixings, the servers began arranging silverware and candles in their place. I ducked and weaved through a crowd that formed near the door on my way back to the coat check. Before pushing the door open into the lobby I turned. Kreisberg stood by the bar, shoulders back speaking enthusiastically to a group of three young men, two average height and one a bit taller. He waved his hands occasionally and spoke audibly over the din of the packed room. Dr. Lonnie stood opposite him in the corner inside of a semi-circle of fans pushing in to shake his hand or ask him questions or compliment him on the performance. He nodded quietly as they spoke, smiling slightly under his white beard.
Hm. I shrugged a little and pushed through the doors into the light.