Lonnie Liston Smith, Jazz Café, London
Monday 17 April 2006
Twenty-five years later, the fusion of the 1970s provided significant inspiration for the acid jazz movement, and not for nothing did Guru call Liston Smith to participate in 1993's groundbreaking mix of jazz and rap, Jazzmataz Vol 1, along with Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers. So it's fair to say that Liston Smith has earned his little marker in jazz history.
On the basis of this performance at the Jazz Café, however, whatever credibility that marker gives him is wearing exceedingly thin.
His first number, "Mardi Gras", was a sparkly samba which he led from the club's grand piano. It was a reasonable opener, the competent drummer and energetic percussionist locking in nicely over the boomy efforts of a six-string bassist, while Liston Smith splashed chords.
The second number indicated that the jazz content was not going to reach any greater heights, as the leader switched to a double deck of Roland keyboards to lay down the intro to what turned into the first of several cheesy soul ballads. There was still some remnant of tasteful instrumentation. The bassist provided undulations to the groove with rising and falling slides, and a few sharp cracks from the drum kit gave some structure to the percussionist's mushy vocals.
Time, I thought, for Liston Smith to pull one out of the bag and show why he was once talked about as the man who could link John Coltrane and Earth, Wind and Fire. No such luck. Liston Smith moved from noodlesome numbers on the grand piano to 1980s-style, muscle-laden funk of supreme banality.
There may, just, have been a place for this kind of music at one point. Now, I'm afraid, it belongs on the pile marked "reduced to clear".
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