May 18, 2024

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Dr. Lonnie Smith and Iggy Pop make the perfect odd couple on a recast psychedelic-folk hit: Videos, Photo

With his acute dose of groove wizardry, Hammond B-3 organist and NEA Jazz Master Dr. Lonnie Smith challenges anyone with a pulse to remain still or silent.

He is a distinct stylist in a line of Hammond heroes that first emerged in the 1960s to win over fans with a visceral approach to the instrument that emanates from the ground up. The Doctor’s long list of collaborators and groove guardians have included such titans such as saxophonists David “Fathead” Newman and Joe Lovano, trumpeter Lee Morgan, guitarist George Benson — and now, singer, songwriter, producer and punk icon Iggy Pop.

A 1966 Billboard chart-topper written and first performed by UK singer-songwriter Donovan, “Sunshine Superman” is also known to Smith fans as the slinky jam that closes the 1969 album Move Your Hand. That year, Smith had interrupted fellow B3 king Jimmy Smith’s decade-long reign as Downbeat Jazz Organist of the Year, with that album and its title track catching heat as an unexpected smash.

Fast forward to 2021: Smith and his longtime trio collaborators, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake, set an even more impressive slot on “Sunshine Superman,” propelling Iggy Pop’ push-and-pull lyrical delivery. But Pop isn’t just riding the wave here. He emits a cool wave of pure energy through his baritone vocal that clearly pleases Smith; when it’s time for the organ solo, he unleashes the grease right away. (This isn’t a vegan groove; there’s plenty of fatback to go around.)

Smith is at his celebratory best here — so much so that we hear Pop cheering him on. Through their musical soundscape, these four musicians are reminding us all of the joy and in-person camaraderie we so miss right now. That vibe is sure to be extended through the remainder of Breathe, as six of its eight tracks were recorded on location at New York’s now-defunct Jazz Standard, where Dr. Lonnie often administered many of his most potent grooves.

Blue Note will release Breathe on March 26, and we’re not done talking about it. Be sure to subscribe to the WBGO podcast Jazz United, as our first episode in April will shine a spotlight on Dr. Lonnie Smith and the legacy of the Hammond B3.

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