JAZZBO NOTES RECOMMENDED RECORDING
Cool Blues is one of the better Jimmy Smith outings for three reasons:
#1 It’s not just the Jimmy Smith show
Smith’s bandmates, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, guitarist Eddie McFadden, and tenor man Tina Brooks, are having a good night.
Musicians are like anyone else. Some days, they struggle to make it through their shift. Their minds are on family problems or they’re thinking about the money they owe. On these jam records with Jimmy Smith, his sidemen were notorious for phoning in their performances, noodling rote bebop cliches. Not on Cool Blues.
Donaldson, McFadden, and Brooks sound engaged with the material. Donaldson’s solos don’t set the world on fire, but they are consistently thoughtful. On the other hand, Eddie McFadden pushes himself past his natural abilities. Some of his leads are remarkably adventurous for him. His articulation may not be the best, but it’s good enough — we know what he’s trying to say. Like Donaldson, Brooks isn’t a passionate soloist, but his ideas are intricate and well thought out.
#2 It was still early in Jimmy Smith’s career
As you can hear on Dark Eyes, Smith is still making discoveries on the organ. This is particularly true when Art Blakey takes over the drum chair for Donald Bailey. That’s not surprising. Bailey sounds half asleep. Blakey is a much more aggressive player and pushes Smith. On Dark Eyes and Groovin’ At Smalls, Jimmy Smith is on fire.
#3 Art Blakey
Art Blakey’s presence on a Jimmy Smith recording always kicks things up a notch, not only because he inspires Jimmy, but because Blakey is a blast when he solos, which you can’t say about most of Smith’s drummers from the period.
Oddly enough, considering Blakey’s presence, A Night In Tunisia is not the unqualified success you would expect. It’s not Blakey’s fault. The other musicians can’t seem to find much to say about the tune that hasn’t been said better elsewhere. Lou Donaldson just flails on this one. Tina Brooks is better, but still no great shakes. He tends to repeat himself and just play lines instead of logically building a solo. Eddie McFadden tries, but his ideas outpace his ability so far that the overall effect is pathetic. As you would expect, Jimmy Smith comes up with some original ideas. He concentrates on rhythmic motifs for the first part of his solo, with Blakey providing comment along side of him. Then there’s a burst of fiery bebop lines, topped off with a brief visit to church. Blakey has a short, tasty solo and then the band takes it out, with Jimmy Smith getting in one last cadenza before the tune comes to a close.
I’m afraid the quality dips a bit from there.
Jimmy Smith gets some licks in on the title track, but this is pretty standard organ jam jazz, folks. It’s just not all that inspired, I suspect in part because Donald Bailey is back in the drum chair.
The ballads that follow, What’s New and Once In A While, aren’t all that exciting, but they aren’t a snooze, either, thanks to some assertive work from Lou Donaldson on alto and old, dependable Jimmy Smith.
I know that this review reads pretty lukewarm, but Jimmy Smith’s playing is so torrid on the first two tracks that it makes up the difference. When you add in that his sideman aren’t asleep as usual, Cool Blues is a pretty good date.