This is a monthly series of album reviews I will be doing for DVL Audio here in Canada. I’ll be heading out to a local record store in Vancouver, digging through the bins, and coming up with an intriguing LP to discuss here on Part-Time Audiophile. I’ll never go out with something in mind beforehand, and there is no criteria for whether it’s a new album, an old album, an out-of-print LP, electronic, classical, jazz, punk – whatever – it just has to sound good to me.
I’ll come up with as much of the backstory as I can research, and include a small audio sample for listening. I hope you enjoy reading the reviews as much as I enjoy doing them.
The jacket was dirty, yellowed from age, it had a split seam, and the LP had no sleeve, but a quick glance while holding it up to the fluorescent overhead lights showed that despite the dust, the album looked close to pristine. I was flipping through the used stacks at the downtown Seattle record shop Singles Going Steady when I saw Smith’s familiar face staring back at me. This time it was from an original Stereo Blue Note pressing (Liberty label BNST-84269-A, VAN GELDER dead-wax stamp) of the jazz organist that was recorded on March 22, 1960, but not released until 1968. A quick search on Wikipedia, and Discogs revealed that it was hailed as “a fast-paced studio jam session.” That was good enough for me, and I tucked it under my arm as I continued to dig through several crates on the floor.
For those caught flat-footed, Jimmy Smith was one of the most talented key ticklers going for jazz, and while his date of birth is still a mystery (December 8th, either 1925 or 1928), his innate ability to infuse soul into every jazz piece he took on with his trademark Hammond B-3 electric organ isn’t. A self-taught pianist, Smith got his start as a child working clubs with his father. By the time he was nine years old he’d already won a contest as a “boogie-woogie pianist” on a local Philadelphia radio station, and following naval service he continued exploring music at the Royal Hamilton College of Music, and the Leo Ornstein School of Music.
As early as 1951 the organ had its hooks into him though, and he finally gave up the piano three years later to fully embrace it. Recording more than 40 sessions for Blue Note in roughly eight years time before switching to the Verve label in 1962, Smith was known as “The Incredible Jimmy Smith” as a band leader, and had belted out several monster LPs that I’d heard (or already owned) previously before I laid ears on Open House. Albums such as The Sermon, Home Cookin’, Softly as a Summer Breeze, and Midnight Special had already won me over as an unabashed fan, so I knew when I saw Smith’s face on the cover, that I was in for something good.
Recorded sample of LP below:
Open House is stacked like a jukebox with marquee players on it: Ike Quebec on tenor sax, Jackie McLean on alto sax, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Donald Bailey on the skins, and Quinten Warren plucking guitar. The sound here is loose, jammy, and fun, with signature Van Gelder recording ambience. The LP played very quietly after a couple cleanings with my Okki Nokki, and was punchy, and dynamic as all hell in it’s production.
The album kicks off with the title track, and Bailey smacking down the tempo, blowing by McLean, Quebec, and Mitchell is quickly eclipsed by a flourish of serious noodling by Smith who is then overtaken with Mitchell’s crystal-clear trumpet work blasting out a blooming crater of decay in the sonic landscape of the cut. There’s gobs of air, and space around Bailey’s nimble stick work, with high hat, and cymbal splash going back farther into the spatial sound stage than a fadeaway jump shot.
After the crazy blowing session of “Open House,” the second track “Old Folks,” comes in like a glass of bourbon poured neat. This track is so bluesy that I felt like I was perpetually falling into a soft easy chair throughout its duration. Smith’s playing is impeccable, and Quebec’s solos are pure honey that had me spinning the volume attenuator ever higher to get more of that mo’ better.
Side two flips into the same number of cuts as side one, and since there are – sadly – only four tracks on the entire disc (“Open House” is 16 minutes long to be fair), the total album length is just 38 minutes. Coming up off the lead-in groove “Sista Rebecca” rolls hard, and fat with the horns all accounted for, fencing one another with a languid call-and-response throughout. “Embraceable You” rounds things out with McLean’s alto sax so smooth, and fine that I queued-up this track three times in a row to get my measure of it. This is now not only one of my favourite Jimmy Smith LPs, it’s probably the favourite Smith album I own. Highly recommended.
Associated equipment for listening session: