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Second Time Around

Johnny Hammond

Breakout (Epic/Legacy)

Just as rock music became a lot mellower at the turn of the decade in 1970, in some quarters so did jazz. For a number of musicians, the fusion freak-outs and avant-garde extrapolations of the previous decade gave way to a sort of easy-listening blues-funk, based in lounge-y organ tones and warm sax lines. Johnny "Hammond" Smith worked this side of the fence well, which explains his current cult following and reputation as a founding father of that oddball subgenre, acid jazz.

This 1971 disc, the first one of Hammond's released on Kudu (and the first major-label outing for the featured soloist, Grover Washington Jr.), is a marvelous period piece. Three of the tunes are soft rock standards of the era jazzed up a little by Hammond (so nicknamed because of his choice of instrument, the Hammond B-3 organ), the best being "Never Can Say Goodbye," possibly because it sticks enough to the Jackson 5 original without sounding Muzak-like and because Washington blows a wonderfully restrained solo over the top. The oddest song choices are the live and studio takes of Carole King's "It's Too Late," which eliminate the song's best hook, the seven-note piano answering riff over the vamped chords. Jam-wise, "Blues-Selah" is the best of all the tracks because it climbs out of the mellow and really does sound like a Saturday night out.

What was considered jazz's slick bastard son or elevator music back in the day has become a kind of kitsch talisman now, maybe because so much of the jazz of today is slick to the point of making Hammond and crew sound like Ornette by comparison. Whatever the reason, this is top-rate, nighttime slow 'n' low played by the cream of the crop at the top of their respective games. (Johnny Angel)