January 3, 2015

Jimmy Smith - The Sermon (1958)

Jody and I have been digging deeper and deeper into the world of reissued DJ Screw tapes these past couple of weeks and I must say The Sermon and its sister album, House Party, are the jazz equivalents of those codeine rap parties. That might sound like a weird and random way to open this review, but I'm currently burning through the hip hop catalog like nobody else and I had to bring myself back to jazz for one review since it's nothing but jazz January.

The Sermon and House Party, both recorded on the same day, are my favorite Jimmy Smith albums. Everything works out wonderfully here. First of all, let me just say that the recording quality and mixing for this is unbelievable awesome, which is a huge when you're dealing with such atmospheric music like soul jazz and hard bop. Now let's move on to the music itself.

The album opens at a simple mid tempo blues riff with the organ trio just getting warm. Art Blakey falls into the shuffle pattern and Kenny and Jimmy get the mood set up. There's plenty of negative space, and the music seems very open--and that's probably a combination of Van Gelder's recording magic and Smith's instrumental magic.

The trio is just working for the first 6-7 minutes and I'm always in the mindset that I can listen to that for 20 more minutes, but then Tina Brooks just jumps in out of nowhere and starts improvising (Screw tape amirite?) and he just delves into the coolness of the trio. He solos for a good 6 minutes or something and then is followed by a top form Lee Morgan and Lou Donaldson. Tons of space for these guys to spread out and they do a fantastic job.

Next track J.O.S. (for James Oscar Smith) and the trio opens up in a similar fashion. George Coleman is heard here playing a rare alto sax solo and does a pretty solid job. His intonation is spot on and floats around pretty easily, but unfortunately he's quite a bit squeaky, so not on the level of Lou Donaldson but that's ok. By the time we get to Morgan's solo here, the band is just unstoppable, the energy seems to have come out of nowhere and they are just full speed ahead--and Morgan flies. I mean he is so god damn nimble and fast and clear and everything! Jimmy is the time keeper here of course and gives Lee the "you solo is over" switch (that high pitched siren on the organ), but the 19 year old kid just keeps going and Smith realizes he'll just have to give him another set of bars. He deserved it.

The Sermon is the quintessential jazz organ album in my opinion. You'll be the pimp around town if you play this for your friends.... I wish.

The Sermon (RVG Edition Lossless rip)