— Warning — The title of this post is potentially misleading, I would just like to stress that this is not a post about me and my sexual prowess; this one time. — Warning ends —
You have to love a bit of self-promotion don’t you? witness, Jimmy Smith billing himself here on Back At The Chicken Shack* as ‘The Incredible Jimmy Smith’. Not being one to shirk from standing on the shoulders of giants myself occasionally, I have now added ‘The Incredible’ as a prefix to my name on all work eMails and also when barista’s ask me my name to scrawl on the side of a cup. So mote it be.
Empty bragging? not for either of us, but maybe particularly so in Mr Smith’s case. One of the real pioneers of the jazz organ** he became totally synonymous with the Hammond B3. He made a wonderful series of 30 LPs for Blue Note between 1956 and 1963^, tell you what, those musicians used to work for a living back then! Back At The Chicken Shack was recorded at the same 1960 sessions as Midnight Special, but not released until 1963, presumably only because there is a finite number of Jimmy Smith LPs a label can release in a 12-month period.
I got into Mr Smith, as I have so many other jazz and funk musicians, through the Beastie Boys – in this case through ‘Root Down’, which samples his ‘Root Down & Get It’
But I digress, once you’re past the great LP cover^^ you’re into some instantly great music on Back At The Chicken Shack. Smith eschewed using a bass player and played a walking bass line on his pedals and so his trio were tenor sax, guitar and drums. What a trio though! Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Burrell and Donald Bailey are just perfect players, Bailey’s purposeful but laid-back drumming is a real treat all the way through.
You can guess the mood of the opener and title track, ‘Back At the Chicken Shack’ from its’ title – down home. It’s a wonderfully flowing, cool groove embellished by sparkling cascades from Mr Smith’s right hand. I love the way that it has such a bluesy tone to it, Burrell’s guitar playing almost gives it a B.B King after hours vibe and there is definitely a R&B quality to the loping rhythm. No sharp edges here.
Next up is the 1934 vintage Romberg/Hammerstein ‘When I Grow Too Old To Dream’, which I think is a gorgeous old thing anyway. Here Smith and his men gently caress almost 10 minutes of melodious lyricism out of it, Turrentine’s tenor playing ‘sings’ it beautifully all the way down. He eventually cedes the floor to Smith who gives it some virtuoso soloing in his unhurried way.
A Stanley Turrentine composition kicks off Side 2 of Back At The Chicken Shack and what a beauty it is too, ‘Minor Chant’. There’s a slinky hard bop urgency about this track that I love, it’s by far the most uptempo number here and there is a touch of Sonny Rollins’ questing style about it too. How can a minor-key tune sound so much fun?
At over 12 minutes the brilliantly titled ‘Messy Bessie’ is the longest track here. We are firmly back into blues territory again and we get to hear some great tasteful soloing from all the players. It is perhaps a bit of a lesser composition though, more remarkable for the backdrop it provides for the players than as a track in its’ own right.
Back At The Chicken Shack is an album that rakes in the plaudits and, whilst it is a very good set, I don’t quite get that – I love the amalgam of blues jazz and something a little easier in the mix, but it is just short of one killer track in my view. I slightly prefer the moodier Midnight Special, but maybe that’s just me, mean and moody. Regardless, it is always worth taking a punt on The Incredible Jimmy Smith; Elsie said so.
*and a lot of his other LPs too, starting with 1960’s Crazy! Baby. He was also billed as ‘The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith’ on 1962’s Bashin’ but, predictably, that one just didn’t stick.
**stop sniggering at the back there Aaron!
^NASA scientists have calculated that at current rates it would take Guns ‘n Roses 3,824.6 years to replicate this feat.
^^the dog is called Elsie by the way.