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Jazz Review

Organist Smith Moving and Grooving at Catalina

May 20, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jimmy Smith's reign as the Emperor of the Jazz Organ has been long and, for the most part, productive. It's been nearly 50 years since his appropriately titled first album, "A New Sound, a New Star: Jimmy Smith at the Organ," signaled his arrival on the scene.

Thursday night at Catalina Bar & Grill, in the opening set of a four-night run, Smith was still the hard grooving, rhythmically exciting performer he has been since that first appearance on records. Despite his announced complaint that his arms and legs were stiff from moving boxes to a new residence, there was no reduction in his trademark foot-tapping way with the blues.

There was, however, a fairly typical reductionist approach to the set itself. Smith has been known to walk off stage after delivering a bare half-hour of music. His overall presentation was considerably longer this time out, but a good portion of the program was devoted to a lengthy segment showcasing three solo ballad performances by guitarist Phil Upchurch. And, toward the close of the set, Smith, Upchurch and saxophonist George Harper once again left the stage while Smith's nephew, Tommy Campbell, delivered a lengthy drum solo.

Smith's participation largely was devoted to the blues, in a variety of shapes and forms, and an occasional ballad--most notably the lovely "A Child Is Born." And though there was no denying his capacity to almost instantly create a hard-swinging, rhythmic groove pocket, his soloing was dominated by a thicket of melodic filigree, always a bit too present in his improvising and even more so for this set.

At his best, Smith easily lives up to his decades of musical achievement. But on this night, despite some humorous interaction with the crowd, he seemed a bit distracted, maybe thinking about all those boxes he still has to move.

* The Jimmy Smith Quartet at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (323) 466-2210. $20 cover tonight at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. $18 cover tonight at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m. Two-drink minimum.

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