Of all of organist Jimmy Smith's big-band albums recorded for Verve, this is one of the most imaginative ones. Oliver Nelson arranged a variety of themes from Prokofiev's Peter & the Wolf into a swinging suite featuring the great organist Jimmy Smith. Although there is no verbal narrative on this LP, Nelson's liner notes tell the story (which can actually be followed through the music) and Smith pays respect to the original melodies while making strong statements of his own. A classic of its kind.
Pianist Al Haig, a veteran of the bebop era, plays pretty modern on this quartet date which is co-led by guitarist Jimmy Raney. With backing by bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant, Haig and Raney interpret two bop standards and such later material as Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" and Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance." Haig and Raney inspire each other to stretch out, including on an 11-minute version of "'Round Midnight." Thought-provoking music well worth hearing several times.
The tracks that make up Straight Life had been sitting in the Blue Note vaults since they were recorded on June 22, 1961, representing the only recorded output that year by Jimmy Smith and his trio of the era, which included guitarist Quentin Warren and drummer Donald Bailey. Somehow these ten songs got lost in the shuffle between the 1960 Blue Note date Crazy! Baby and Smith's leap into the national spotlight with his first Verve release, Bashin', in 1962. The trio swings along on six standards and three originals "Straight Life," "Jimmy's Blues," and two versions of "Minor Fare." Although not in the same league as Midnight Special or Prayer Meetin', it's great to hear this long lost hard bop session from the master of the Hammond B-3.
Stingingly sweet slide guitar and barrelhouse piano come to life on this spontaneously authentic and passionate recording from these seasoned blues veterans. "This recording contains thirteen of those songs just as they sounded that Sunday when they were recorded live at Mojo Boneyard Studios. This is how the band sounds at any number of clubs in and around the Pittsburgh area. These are all first takes and a fair representation of the energy and spontaneous creativity that the band exhibits when we’re swinging out in the clubs. I had a good time making music with these fine musicians and I'm glad we captured some of it on this recording. It’s been a long time comin." ~ Jimmy Adler