Soul-jazz — sometimes erroneously referred to as “acid jazz” these days — has made a splendid comeback in the last decade from critical obscurity and popular neglect. And Lexus Jazz at the Bowl practically defined the idiom Wednesday night by reuniting an all-star trio of soul-jazz eminences — Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine and Kenny Burrell — who burned with the fires of the 1960s throughout the evening’s second half.
Concert was, however, by no means an automatic slam-dunk. For one thing, it should have been a quartet reunion, with drummer Grady Tate rounding out what would have been a gathering from the high noon of Blue Note’s and Verve’s soul-jazz sessions. But Tate was replaced at the last minute by Harvey Mason, who as it turned out, maintained just as potent a groove as that anticipated from Tate.
Also, one wondered about the unpredictability of Smith. But surrounded by inspiring old friends, the real Jimmy Smith showed up — formidable, in control, masterfully mixing up the colors on his Hammond B-3 organ, with all of his invention and dexterity in hands and feet intact and firing away.
With Turrentine in vintage salty-toned form on tenor sax and Burrell contributing his effortlessly tasty, low-key guitar, they knocked out a series of blues numbers and a mellow jazz waltz, turning the vast Bowl into an urban nightclub (complete with more chattering than usual in the boxes).
After the quartet’s set, John Clayton astutely brought out the other, perhaps even more popular aspect of Smith’s 1960s legacy — the big band records that he made with Oliver Nelson and Lalo Schifrin. He dusted off the swaggering Nelson chart of “Walk on the Wild Side” — belted with some fervor by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra — that drove Smith to a new level of energy as he seemed to devour the organ’s keyboards. For a big finish, Smith’s classic soul marathon “The Sermon” was augmented for big band, with a crisply riffing Burrell and Turrentine joining in on the fun.
Luckily, the CHJO’s turn with Smith and the gang redeemed a sometimes listless first half by the band, with tributes to Ellington (“Prelude to a Kiss” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Raincheck”) and Louis Armstrong (“A Foggy Day”) again dominating the agenda.