Perhaps Smith’s re-emergence in Lou Donaldson’s group, and especially their engagements at the Village Vanguard, led to the rediscovery of his work. Whatever the reason, Smith started spending more time in New York, performing in venues like Lincoln Center and Smoke, pursuing more recording activity, involving himself in engaging projects like the tributes to Jimi Hendrix he shared with John Abercrombie, and attaining growing recognition. And now Smith has taken his career to a higher level by signing with Palmetto Records, which just released his first CD on the label, Too Damn Hot!
Like other successful leads of B-3 groups, Smith brings out the best in his guitarists, and that’s certainly true on Too Damn Hot! which features not one, but two guitarists, Peter Bernstein and Rodney Jones. While Smith can kick off a piece with melody and groove rooted by bass pedal work, eventually Bernstein, years ago a Donaldson protégé, takes the cue to develop his own bright solos, Jones keeping the group in motion on rhythm guitar. That success of that concept becomes apparent on Smith’s one-chord composition from his early boogaloo recordings with Donaldson, "One Cylinder." The rhythm the feel of the music trumps the "necessity" of harmonic changes on the 7-minute-long track, a test of improvisational skills without the crutch of modulations.
All of the music on Too Damn Hot was written by Smith, the exceptions being Horace Silver’s slowly performed, glossy "Silver Serenade" and the understated waltz of "Someday My Prince Will Come." Those sidetracks contrast with the humor of Smith’s compositions, the humor being at its most obvious when one he sings, "Your Mama’s Got A Complex" ("she thinks she’s hot but hot she’s not"). Like Smith’s other tunes, "Your Mama’s Got A Complex" appears to be based upon a single idea, and its words result from singing the instrumental hook. Driven by Greg Hutchinson’s street beat and reminiscent of Idris Muhammad’s famous work with Donaldson, Benson and Smith, "Norleans" provides opportunities for Smith & Co. to stretch out, animating the music with a sense of fun.
But the title track, against expectations suggested by its title, unfolds as a slow ballad and sets up leisurely improvisations. Smith’s solo, in particular the section when he plays a single flutter over two choruses, is one of the CD’s more imaginative explorations, along with his unstoppable energy, as if gaining momentum through inertia, on "Evil Turn."
With the release of Too Damn Hot, Dr. Lonnie Smith (so named decades ago to differentiate himself from Lonnie Liston Smith), has reclaimed the attention of listeners devoted to the inimitable sounds of the Hammond B-3 organ, now undergoing a mini-revival by thirty-somethings who have gravitated to the new Hammond-Suzuki B-3. One of the innovators of original Hammond B-3 organ jazz, Smith has remained so damn hot that few other players can burn with such intensity.