Sunday, April 6, 2014

Jimmy Smith - The Cat

The call went out from the Ripple boss to all the writers - "Hey, we're running low on content! Crank some stuff out, but make it about something you love! Get it together!" As a faithful Rippler I knew I had to come through. I have a long list of things I want to write about, and will eventually get to them, but right now there's an album permanently parked on my turntable - The Cat by Jimmy Smith. I've been a huge Jimmy Smith fan for many years but in the past mainly listened to his Blue Note recordings from the 1950's. The past year or so I've been picking up many of the albums he made for Verve starting in 1962 and they've really floored me. Albums like Hobo Flats, Bashin' and Dynamic Duo (with Wes Montgomery) usually feature a mix of trio recordings and big band arrangements. Someone in my neighborhood even threw out a perfectly good copy of of Jimmy's version of Peter & The Wolf. What kind of chooch does that?!

A couple of weeks ago while browsing at a local record store I spied a 2013 reissue of The Cat. I knew the title track but had heard nothing else of it. When I saw that Lalo Schifrin did the arrangements I knew I had to get it. An original vinyl copy of Schifrin's score to the Mission: Impossible from the 1960's has been a prize possession of mine for decades. Lalo's work with Dizzy Gillespie's big band is top notch and I love his soundtracks for Bullitt, Dirty Harry and many others. (Check out his insane score to the bizarre film The Hellstrom Chronicle for something really out of this world).

When I got the album home and on my turntable it was everything I had hoped for and then some. Oliver Nelson did some incredible arrangements on many of Jimmy Smith's Verve albums but Lalo's work on this 1964 album is truly spectacular. "Theme From Joy House" opens side one with a slow, mysterious groove before brass comes exploding in. "The Cat" (also from the film Joy House) is a fast, swinging stomper that would have been perfect in an Austin Powers film. Guitarist Kenny Burrell gets in some seriously tasty licks on it. "Basin Street Blues" is a great strolling blues that shows of the funky rhythm section of George Duvivier on bass and Grady Tate on drums. Side one wraps up with a tour deforce version of "Main Title From 'The Carpetbaggers.'" I've never heard the original but it would be pretty difficult to top this version. Extra percussion and low brass give it some major cinematic atmosphere.

The audio visuals continue on side two with "Chicago Serenade" which has an almost Western feel to it. A trio of blues songs - "St. Louis Blues" is gospel-y
while "Delon's Blues" and "Blues In The Night" are slow burners. They have the loose feel of some of Jimmy's Blue Note records but with tight brass arrangements and, of course, great solos from Smith and Burrell. Produced by Creed Taylor and recorded by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder in his studio in New Jersey, the sound of The Cat is fuckin incredible. The recording sessions took place over 3 days in April, 1964.

There are literally thousands of great jazz albums and hundreds of killer organ albums but The Cat is very special. Anyone with a love of the great film scores from the 1950's and 60's would love this album as well as funk fans and is mandatory for jazz freaks. I wish I had heard this album years before but then I would be scratching my head trying to figure out what to write about for Ripple this week.


"The Cat"

"Main Title From 'The Carpetbaggers'"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love Jimmy Smith - makes me feel like I'm in an episode of Streets of San Francisco

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