Jimmy Smith: Root Down
Sharing a fate similar to many musical innovators who weather the test of time Jimmy Smith eventually became a prisoner of the very style he pioneered. Cookie-cutter sessions that paled in comparison to his early, genre-defining work have become the norm in the organist’s later years. Root Down, recently reissued as part of ‘Verve By Request’ Series, originates from the beginnings of this period in Smith’s lengthy career, but it’s still got enough grooves and grease to make it worth a listen.
The early 70s lounge vibe is thick as sweet maple syrup across the tracks, whether they’re up-tempo like the opener or laid back as on the slippery “For Everyone Under the Sun.” Many have been restored to their full lengths for the first time. Adams’ works off a Fozzi Bear shtick churning out chicken scratch riffs that sound uncannily like the famous Muppet’s signature “Wacka Wacka Wacka” laugh track. Felder’s Fender frees Smith up from bass line chores and the leader exploits the space afforded, often to the point of excess. For their parts, Humphrey and Clarke provide percussive support that while a far cry from the tightest in the business still shores up the rhythmic end of things sufficiently.
Gaining access to the expanded tracks is a treat, but listening to them in unexpurgated form the reasons behind their original truncation soon becomes evident. Over half the numbers weigh in above the ten-minute mark but frequently their girths cloak a hollow middles. The relaxed after hours feel, (not coincidentally the title of one of the tunes) often ends up being an open license for noodling and all of the players, particularly Smith stand guilty of this self-indulgent sin. The arguable highpoint of the set is the title track, heavily sampled on the same-named hit by the Beastie Boys back in 94’ (check Check Your Head ). From the outset Felder’s bass clicks with Humphrey’s syncopated sticks paving a path for the rest of the group to follow in slinky succession. Smith’s florid breaks on this one are surprisingly lightweight in comparison to the rhythm section’s self-assured, ‘in the pocket’ synergy. The crew’s take on Al Green’s quintessential soul ballad “Let’s Stay Together” fares less well, quickly miring in popcorn sentimentality.
This disc may not be a masterpiece on par with Smith’s seminal 50’s Blue Note work. But as a snapshot of the B-3 Emperor in the company of adoring younger players laying down a litany of enjoyable, if pedestrian, funk-injected grooves this long lost date is sure to hit the spot.
Tracks:Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow/ For Everyone Under the Sun/ After Hours*/ Root Down (and Get It)/ Let’s Stay Together/ Slow Down Sagg/ Root Down (and Get It)-alternate.
Players:Jimmy Simth- organ; Steve Williamson- harmonica*; Arthur Adams- guitar; Wilton Felder- bass; Buck Clarke- conga, percussion; Paul Humphrey- drums.
Recorded: February 9, 1972, Bombay Bicycle Club, Los Angeles, CA.