His final Flying Dutchman album. An impressive mixture of jazz and funk.
It is somewhat ironic that in the mid-70s, as record companies looked for a commercial crossover formula, Lonnie Liston Smith became the biggest star of Flying Dutchman’s late period when it was part of the major label RCA’s empire. What RCA required was sales, and Lonnie delivered them without compromising his artistic vision.
The pianist had first come to the jazz world’s attention in 1969 when, as a member of Pharoah Sanders’ group, he had been intrinsic to their brand of spiritual jazz. From there he had gone on to join Argentine saxophone great Gato Barbieri, before ending his career as a sideman by joining Miles Davis’ group.
It was here he suddenly found himself in demand as a solo performer and signed with Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label. Thiele had produced Sanders’ and Barbieri’s breakthrough albums and used his familiarity with Lonnie to get the deal. His first two albums for the label saw him trying to forge his own style, something that became fully realised with the cosmic jazz sound of 1975’s “Expansions”.
Lonnie had a vision of a world where peace and love were the driving forces and people would use their minds to achieve this goal. The title track of “Expansions” saw this view expressed by the vocals of his brother Donald over a double bass-led rhythm. It proved to be a smash and one of the most recognisable jazz tracks of the decade.
By the time he released “Reflections Of A Golden Dream” he had honed his style and the record shows the very best of Lonnie’s mid-decade sound. Analogue synthesisers colour a fairly traditional latinised set of rhythms. Donald Smith sings in a style that is influenced by the best jazz and gospel voices, and there is plenty of fine playing from Lonnie and saxophonist David Hubbard. The album even has its own anthemic opener in ‘Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace)’ on which, for the first time on his own albums, Lonnie takes on the lead vocal duties.
His next album, “Renaissance”, was issued on to the main RCA label, Flying Dutchman having ceased operating. Lonnie continues to record and, 40 years after “Expansions”, his music is still loved.