DR LONNIE SMITH — Afro-Desia (review)

DR LONNIE SMITH — Afro-Desia album cover Album · 1975 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
When “Afro-Desia” opens you are likely to think you have one of those typical mid-70s soul funk jazz sides, but don’t take the needle off the record because this one is about wander into some fairly strange and interesting territory. Side one starts with an almost disco leaning bass line and borderline campy vocals, but after Joe Lovano’s fiery sax solo, Lonnie Smith brings on the weird synthesizers and the song goes into a strange percussion driven psychedelia before fading out. The rest of side one gets even more out there as “Spirits Free” presents an angular funky bass line topped with phasing distorted keyboards ala Miles Davis, as well as another great solo from Lovano. Even though he is surrounded by heavyweights like Lonnie Smith and George Benson, Joe emerges as the real star on this album. As this song continues, Smith begins to play bizarre melodies on the synthesizer backed by his distorted organ invoking the spirit of Sun Ra and early Funkadelic in the process. Overall this side is reminiscent of other classic psychedelic 70s jazz albums like Les McCann’s “Invitation to Openess”, Buddy Terry’s “Pure Dynamite” or countless spin-offs from Herbie’s Sextet.

Side two enters into slightly more traditional territory with a fast fusion jazz samba followed by an up-tempo cover of “Impressions” (renamed) and closing with a classic hard bop soul jazz groove. Although a little more traditional than side one, this side still carries the bohemian vibe of the “hippie-jazz” era where everyone picks up a shaker or conga when they aren’t soloing and there is plenty of incense, sandals and dashikis to go around for everyone. With one foot in the world of psychedelic fusion and the other in the more aggressive end of the 70s soul jazz groove, “Afro-Desia” is a great very 70s flavored funky jazz record.
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