Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jimmy Smith, "Bucket!"

Okay, so I have to be honest, I bought jazz organist Jimmy Smith's CD "Bucket!" in large part because of the title and the cover art. As a fan of Blue Note Records' classic jazz albums and classic album cover designs from the 50's and 60's, I knew I had to have this. The title is so ludicrous, who would call an album "Bucket!" and why? And why the exclamation point and quotation marks? (According to the front cover, the title is actually "Bucket"! The CD itself says Bucket! And the CD spine says Bucket. But I prefer "Bucket!") From the front cover, it looks like Jimmy is exuberantly shouting "Bucket!"
Despite the classic cover and title, "Bucket!" is unfortunately not a very memorable album. I'm not the biggest jazz organ fan ever, but I do really like Jimmy Smith's sessions with the guitarist Wes Montgomery. Now there was some smokin' jazz. To give you some background, Jimmy Smith was the man who brought the organ out of church, (and baseball stadiums) and into the jazz mainstream. He's one of the most important innovators on the organ. His Blue Note albums from the late 50's and early 60's made him a star in the jazz world, and his 60's albums for Verve served to solidify his standing. His most famous song is probably "Walk On the Wild Side." (Not to be confused with Lou Reed's song of the same name.)
"Bucket!" was one of Jimmy Smith's last albums for Blue Note, recorded in 1963, but not released until three or four years later. (That's usually never a good sign.) The only other musicians on "Bucket!" are Quentin Warren on guitar, and Donald Bailey on drums. Both were regulars on Smith's Blue Note sessions of the time. Both are good musicians, but the session is more like a slow, steady groove than an explosive display of virtuosity. Warren and Bailey are not Wes Montgomery and Art Blakey, to name two more propulsive talents on their instruments. Warren isn't given very much room to solo, and Smith's solos are more restrained and laid-back than usual. The song choice is also kind of odd, as Smith leads the group through the old, old songs "Careless Love," and "John Brown's Body." I'm not kidding, a jazz organ version of "John Brown's Body." Smith's solos don't stray too far from the melodies, which gives the feeling that he's playing it safe for some reason. Anyway, it's a good, solid Blue Note session, it makes for enjoyable listening, and worth recommending for serious Jimmy Smith fans, but it's nothing extraordinary.

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