|Lonnie Liston Smith
Lonnie Liston Smith performing live at the Glastonbury Festival, June 27, 2009
||December 28, 1940
Richmond, Virginia, United States
||Jazz, Soul, Funk
||Pharoah Sanders, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Betty Carter, Gato Barbieri, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Basement Jaxx
Lonnie Liston Smith, Jr. (born December 28, 1940) is an American jazz, soul, and funk musician who played with such notable jazz artists as Pharoah Sanders and Miles Davis before forming Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes, recording a number of albums widely regarded as classics in the fusion, quiet storm, smooth jazz and acid jazz genres.
Early career (1963–73)
Smith was born into a musical family; his father was a member of Richmond Gospel music group The Harmonizing Four, and Lonnie remembered groups such as the Swan Silvertones and the Soul Stirrers (featuring a young Sam Cooke) as regular visitors to the house when he was a child. He learned piano, tuba and trumpet in high school and college, graduating from Morgan State University, Baltimore, with a Bachelor of Science degree in music education. He has since cited Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis as major influences on his youth. While still a teenager at college, Smith became well known locally as a backing vocalist as well as pianist, and played in the Baltimore area with a number of his contemporaries, including Gary Bartz (alto), Grachan Moncur (trombone), and Mickey Bass (bass). He also backed a number of jazz singers such as Betty Carter and Ethel Ennis when, soon after graduating, he began playing live with the house band at the Royal Theater, Baltimore.
In 1963 he moved to New York, and played piano in Betty Carter's band for a year. Early in 1965, Smith began playing with Rshaan Roland Kirk (then known as Roland Kirk), first recording with his band on "Here Comes the Whistleman" (Atlantic, 1965), an album recorded live in NYC, March 14, 1965. A further track from that gig, "Dream", appeared later the same year on Roland Kirk and Al Hibbler's live album "A Meeting of the Times" (Atlantic, 1965).
Late in 1965, Smith joined Art Blakey's sextet, the Jazz Messengers, sharing the piano position with Mike Nock and Keith Jarrett. The Jazz Messengers, together with Miles Davis' group, were one of the main proving grounds for young up-and-coming jazz musicians, experimentally edgy and musically stretching, and both were an ever-revolving door of young modern jazz musicians as modes and moods rapidly changed during a fresh period of experimentation. Beginning with a live session at The Five Spot, New York City, November 9, 1965, Smith's time as a Jazz Messenger was fairly short-term, only lasting until a three-gig engagement at The Village Vanguard 26–28 April 1966; by May 1966 his position was filled by Chick Corea. No recordings exist of this period.
In May 1967, Smith returned to working with Roland Kirk for the album sessions for "Now Please Don't You Cry, Beautiful Edith" (Verve,1967) before continuing his career as pianist for a year with drummer Max Roach (although once again no recordings were made of this lineup).
Following this stint, Smith moved to Pharoah Sanders' ensemble early in 1968, a group Sanders had set up on the death of John Coltrane the previous year. Fiercely improvisational, Sanders pushed the band to the creatively boundaries of free jazz, recording three of Sanders' finest recordings: "Karma" (Impulse, 1969), "Jewels of Thought" (Impulse, 1970) and "Thembi" (Impulse, 1971), together with 1969 recording sessions not released until 1973 as "Izipho Zam" (Strata East, 1973). It is at this point that Smith began experimenting with electric keyboards:
On Thembi, that was the first time that I ever touched a Fender Rhodes electric piano. We got to the studio in California — Cecil McBee had to unpack his bass, the drummer had to set up his drums, Pharoah had to unpack all of his horns. Everybody had something to do, but the piano was just sitting there waiting. I saw this instrument sitting in the corner and I asked the engineer, 'What is that?' He said, 'That’s a Fender Rhodes electric piano.' I didn’t have anything to do, so I started messing with it, checking some of the buttons to see what I could do with different sounds. All of a sudden I started writing a song and everybody ran over and said, 'What is that?' And I said, 'I don’t know, I’m just messing around.' Pharoah said, 'Man, we gotta record that. Whatcha gonna call it?' I’d been studying astral projections and it sounded like we were floating through space so I said let’s call it 'Astral Traveling.' That’s how I got introduced to the electric piano.
During this period, Smith also backed Sanders vocalist Leon Thomas on his first album "Spirits Known and Unknown" (Flying Dutchman, 1969).
Having already guested on Gato Barbieri's 1969 album "The Third World" (Philips, 1969), Smith joined Barbieri's band from 1971 to 1973. Barbieri had by then begun to temper his free jazz excursions of the 1960s with softer Afro-Cuban and South American textures in his music, which would influence Smith's playing into new directions in the following years. Smith played on a number of albums marking this transition, "Fenix" (Philips, 1971), the live album "El Pampero" (Flying Dutchman, 1972), "Bolivia" (Flying Dutchman, 1973) and "Under Fire" (Flying Dutchman, 1973). One further recording, "El Gato" (Flying Dutchman, 1975), was released after Smith had again moved on; from 1972 he had also taken up the invitation to join Miles Davis band on electric keyboards. Over the next year, during an intense period of studio recording by Davis, various line-ups laid down a considerable number of sessions, which were later inter-cut and remixed for final release. Miles Davis insisted that Smith learn to play the organ for the sessions: "Miles gave me two nights to learn how to make music on the thing. Miles liked to introduce new sounds in a surprising way — that's how he produced such innovative, fresh music." Smith's contributions appeared on "On the Corner" (Columbia, 1973) and the track "Ife" on "Big Fun" (Columbia, 1974).
The Cosmic Echoes (1973–85)
While passing through Miles Davis' ever-changing line-up, Smith had finally formed his own group, 'Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes' in 1973, together with his partner in Pharoah Sanders group, Cecil McBee, on bass, George Barron (soprano and tenor sax), Joe Beck (guitar), David Lee, Jr. (drums), James Mtume (percussion), Sonny Morgan (percussion), Badal Roy (tabla drums), and Geeta Vashi (tamboura). Blending atmospheric fusion, soul and funk, Smith was encouraged by Bob Thiele, the owner of Flying Dutchman Records, who had produced both Pharoah Sanders' and Gato Barbieri's output while Smith had been in their bands, the latter for Thiele's newly formed label. For his debut album, "Astral Traveling" (Flying Dutchman, 1973), Smith re-recorded the title song he had composed and played on with the Pharoah Sanders band two years previous. An instrumental album, "Astral Travelling" also contained a re-arrangement of the gospel standard "Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord", which Smith had also previously arranged for Sanders.
The following year Smith's brother Donald joined the Cosmic Echoes as vocalist for "Cosmic Funk" (Flying Dutchman, 1974). Although he remained close to his earlier roots with featured versions of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and John Coltrane's "Naima" on this album, by now Smith was heading into the smooth jazz funk/fusion style that would dominate his output from here on, with dreamy vocals and long, spacy instrumental passages underlaid by strong funky bass-lines and a distinctive use of light percussion, with a message of peace and tranquillity in both the lyrics and song titles. "I was trying to expand the consciousness of humanity" explained Smith in an interview in 2009. This attitude may not have endeared Smith to the hardcore free jazz fans who had appreciated his earlier work, but this new relaxed fusion style proved popular with a cross-over audience not normally associated with jazz, and the following albums, "Expansions" (Flying Dutchman, 1974), "Visions of a New World" (Flying Dutchman, 1975) and "Reflections of a Golden Dream" (RCA, 1976) have since become mainstays of the jazz-funk and chill jazz genres with DJs and audiences worldwide, especially in Europe and Japan. "Renaissance" (RCA, 1977) continued this crossover fame, and the following year Smith expanded upon his success with a new contract with Columbia Records and two further crossover albums in "Loveland" (Columbia, 1978) and "Exotic Mysteries" (Columbia, 1978), the latter containing the single "Space Princess" which became a disco/R&B hit popular in clubs today in both 7" and remixed 12" versions. "Space Princess" was written by, and featured the bass lines of 16-year-old Marcus Miller, who was discovered by Smith and also wrote the track "Night Flower" on "Exotic Mysteries". A further track from the same album, "Quiet Moments", was to become a mainstay of the smooth jazz genre over the next decade.
After the crossover success of the 1970s, and continuing interest in and discovery of his earlier work by fans of the new "Quiet Storm" late-night radio/smooth jazz format, Smith moved to Bob Thiele's new label, Doctor Jazz, and had a minor hit in 1983 with "Never Too Late". He also appeared in Marvin Gaye's backing band at the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival, which has since been released on both CD and DVD (Eagle Vision, 2003). However, public interest slowly waned in his newer material as the decade wore on, and the Cosmic Echoes eventually dissipated during the mid-1980s after releasing a further three albums, "Dreams of Tomorrow" (Doctor Jazz, 1983), "Silhouettes" (Doctor Jazz, 1984) and "Rejuvenation" (Doctor Jazz, 1985).
The story of how Smith came to join Bob Thiele at Thiele's new label is told on the LP cover notes to "Dreams of Tomorrow" by Leonard Feather. Clearly Smith was at a cross roads. The reuniting with Thiele brought Smith full circle for Thiele was partly responsible for supporting Smith's early work. Thiele's new record label 'Doctor Jazz' (distributed through PRT in the UK) provided the perfect platform for Smith to showcase his new and critically acclaimed work of the early to mid 1980s. For Dreams of Tomorrow, Smith enlisted the vocal talents of his younger brother Donald Smith for the album's opener "A Lonely Way To Be" and side two's stunning opening Never Too Late. A major musician on the album was Marcus Miller on bass guitar. David Hubbard plays a series of saxophones and flutes on the album, with Yogi Horton, Buddy Williams and Steve Thornton leading on drums and percussion. The album relaunched Smith and the 'Doctor Jazz' albums are now considered amongst Smith's finest work. The "Dreams of Tomorrow" sessions were produced by Marcus Miller.
Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes - Expansions
U.S. Flying Dutchman BDL1-0934 stereo (1974).
Album produced by Bob Thiele and Lonnie Liston Smith.
The vinyl record attains a strong excellent grading, suggesting few plays.
Audio quality is very clear and strong throughout.
Both record centre labels are free from tears, stains or stickers.
The albums laminated, hinged cover is in excellent condition, displaying only minimal signs of wear.
The album cover has a strong, undamaged hinge and spine, displaying very clear, printed script.