LONNIE LISTON SMITH AND THE COSMIC ECHOES-THE FLYING DUTCHMAN YEARS.

LONNIE LISTON SMITH AND THE COSMIC ECHOES-THE FLYING DUTCHMAN YEARS.

Innovative, influential and way ahead of the musical curve, describes the music of Lonnie Liston Smith. Especially the music the perfect description of Lonnie Liston Smith recorded with The Cosmic Echoes at Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. It would be home to some of the most innovative jazz musicians of the late-sixties and seventies. 

For Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes, Flying Dutchman Productions was home between 1973 and 1976. During that three year period, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes recorded five groundbreaking albums. 

This started with Astral Travelling in 1973. Cosmic Funk followed in 1974, before Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Expansions in early 1975. Later in 1975, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released  Visions Of A New World. Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes’ swan-song for Flying Dutchman Productions was Reflections Of A Golden Dream. Just like the four previous albums, Visions Of A New World, found musical visionary Lonnie Liston Smith pushing musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, beyond. That’s had been the story of Lonnie Liston Smith’s musical career.  It began a decade earlier. Since then, Lonnie Liston Smith a man who had been born to make music had been establishing himself as a musician.

For Lonnie Liston Smith, it was almost written in the stars that he’d become a musicians. Lonnie was born in 1940, into a musical family. His father was a member of Richmond Gospel music group the Harmonising Four. Growing up, members of gospel groups The Soul Stirrers and Swan Silvertones were regular visitors to the Smith household. With all this music surrounding him, Lonnie learned piano, tuba and trumpet in High School and college. After college, he headed to Morgan State University.

Inspired by Trane, Bird and Miles Davis, Lonnie embarked upon a degree in musical education. Throughout his time at University, Lonnie continued playing the pianist in local clubs and singing backing vocals. He played with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz and trombonist Graham Moncur. This was all part of Lonnie’s musical eduction. Having completed his BSc in musical education at Morgan State University, Lonnie walked straight into a job.

On leaving Morgan State University, Lonnie got a job with the Royal Theatre’s house band. For a young musician, this was would help turn them into a musical all-rounder. After all, they had to be able to accompany a wide range of artists. For Lonnie, this was the next stage in his musical education. The next part of  his musical education took place in New York.

Having moved to New York, Lonnie was luck enough to get a gig playing piano in Betty Carter’s band. This helped Lonnie get his name known in the Big Apple. Then in early 1965, Lonnie caught a break. He joined Roland Kirk’s band and made his recording debut on March 14th 1965. That was when Here Comes The Whistleman was recorded live in New York Lonnie only played on the title-track, Making Love After Hours, Yesterdays and Step Right Up. Then Lonnie featured on Roland andAl Hibbler’s 1965 live album A Meeting Of The Times. After this Lonnie, joined one of jazz’s top bands.

Over the last few years, The Jazz Messengers had established a reputation for young musicians looking to make a name for themselves. Lonnie joined in 1965. He shared the role with Mick Nock and Keith Jarrett. However, with The Jazz Messengers ever evolving lineup, Lonnie only played three in concerts. These three concerts just so happened to be at the legendary Village Vanguard. For Lonnie, despite the prestigious venue, this must have been a disappointing time. Luckily, he was rehired by Roland Kirk. 

Lonnie  rejoined Roland Kirk’s band in time to play on his 1968 album Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith. This established Lonnie’s reputation as the go-to-guy for a pianist. It was the start of period where Lonnie worked with some of the most innovative and inventive jazz players. Musical boundaries were about to be pushed to their limits as Lonnie joined Pharaoh Saunders’ legendary free jazz band.

Pharaoh Saunders had worked closely with John Coltrane right up to his death in 1967. The following year, Pharaoh formed a new band. Their music is best described as free jazz. Musical boundaries were pushed to their limits and beyond. Recognising a fellow believer in free jazz, Pharaoh asked Lonnie to join his band. Lonnie went on to play on three of Pharaoh’s best albums. The first of this trio was 1969s Karma. It was followed in 1970 with Jewels of Thought and 1971s Thembi. The other Pharaoh Saunders album Lonnie played on was 1970s Summun Bukmun Umyun. which was released on Impulse. Just like the three albums Pharaoh recorded for Flying Dutchman Productions, it was a groundbreaking album.

During this period, Pharaoh and his band were constantly pushing boundaries and rewriting the musical rulebook. Their music was truly groundbreaking. Even Lonnie was challenged. On Thembi, Pharaoh asked Lonnie to play the Fender Rhodes. This was the first time that Lonnie came across an electric piano. However, he rose to challenge and wrote Thembi’s opening track Astral Travelling. Later, Astral Travelling would become synonymous with Lonnie Liston Smith and The Echoes. Before that, Lonnie would play with some of jazz’s maverick.

One of these mavericks was Gato Barbieri. He’d just signed to Bob Thiele’s nascent label Flying Dutchman Productions. It was establishing a reputation for providing musicians with an environment where innovative and creative musicians could thrive. Bob believed musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they’d like. So, Bob signed Gato to Flying Dutchman. Lonnie played on his 1969 debut album The Third World. Bob’s next signing was Leon Thomas and played on his debut album Spirits Known and Unknown. Soon, Lonnie was a regular at Flying Dutchman sessions.

When the time came for Gato to record his 1971 sophomore album Fenix, Lonnie was called upon. He played on Fenix and joined Gato’s band. Lonnie played on Gato’s 1972 album El Pampero. He also toured throughout Europe with Gato. Then came the opportunity of a lifetime. After El Pampero, Lonnie got the chance to work with another jazz legend.

Lonnie was a member of Gato Barbieri’s band when Miles Davis got in touch. He wanted Lonnie to join his band. At this time, Miles’ music was changing direction. The direction it was heading in was funk. Electronic instruments were the flavour of the month for Miles and he was exploring their possibilities. However, Miles was doing this outside the studio environment. That’s why there are very few recordings of Lonnie playing alongside Miles at that time. That came later, when Lonnie would later work with Miles. Meanwhile, Lonnie decided to move on with his solo career and his debut album Astral Travelling.

Astral Travelling.

When recording of Astral Travelling began, Lonnie had put together some of the most talented and innovative musicians. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section included bassist Cecil McBee, drummer David Lee and guitarist Joe Beck. Sonrily Morgan and James Mtume played percussion and conga, Gee Vashi tamboura and Badal Roy tabla. George Barron played tenor and soprano saxophone and Lonnie played piano and electric piano on Astral Travelling. Bob Theile produced Astral Travelling, which was released in 1973.

On its release in 1973, Astral Travelling was critically acclaimed. Critics were won over by Astral Travelling’s fusion of avant garde, experimental, free jazz and orthodox jazz. The music was variously beautiful, dramatic, explosive, ethereal, flamboyant languid, mellow, serene spiritual and urgent. It was as if Lonnie had drawn upon all his experience working as a sideman. He had worked with Pharaoh Saunders, Gato Barbieri, The Jazz Messengers, Leon Thomas, Stanley Turrentine and Miles Davis.

The result was Lonnie Liston Smith’s unique brand of cosmic jazz. It went on to influence several generations of musicians and music lovers, and show that  Lonnie Liston Smith was no ordinary musician. Instead,  he was an innovator, who was determined to push musical boundaries to their limits and beyond. This was apparent on Astral Travelling, and its followup Cosmic Funk.

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Cosmic Funk.

Cosmic Funk featured six tracks, three of which Lonnie wrote. They were the title-track Cosmic Funk, Beautiful Woman and Peaceful Ones. The other tracks were Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, James Mtume’s and John Coltrane’s Naima. These six tracks were recorded by an all-star band.

For the recording of Cosmic Funk, Lonnie had put together some of the most talented and innovative musicians. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section included bassist Al Anderson, drummer Art Gore. Lawrence Killian played percussion and conga, while Doug Hammond, Ron Bridgewater and Andrew Cyrille played percussion. George Barron  soprano saxophone, flute and percussion, while Donald Smith played piano, flute and added vocals. Lonnie played acoustic and electric piano plus persuasion on Cosmic Funk. Bob Theile produced Cosmic Funk, which was released in 1974.

Cosmic Funk was released in 1974. Critics heard a different side to Lonnie Liston Smith on Cosmic Funk. It was a much more orthodox album. One thing remained the same, the reaction of critics. Just like Astral Travelling, plaudits and critical acclaim followed the release of Cosmic Funk. It turned out to be a a transitionary album Lonnie Liston Smith, which sadly, wasn’t a huge commercial success. 

Cosmic Funk proved to be a much more orthodox jazz album from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. Elements of jazz, funk, Latin and soul were combined on Cosmic Funk. The music veered between anthemic,  beautiful, ethereal,  experimental, flamboyant, funky, futuristic and wistful. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes was a stepping stone for Lonnie Liston Smith.

Despite  its much more orthodox jazz sound, Cosmic Funk found Lonnie Liston Smith and and The Cosmic Echoes one step nearer finding his trademark sound. They found his trademark sound on his third album, Expansions, which was released in 1975. For Lonnie, the first two albums of his career were part of a musical voyage of discovery. 

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Expansions.

By the time Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Expansions in early 1975, Bob Thiele had take Flying Dutchman Productions’ releases to RCA. While this safeguarded Flying Dutchman Productions’ future, RCA weren’t a charity. They wanted sales. Sales was what they got. Expansions reached eight-five in the US Billboard 200, twenty-seven in the US R&B charts and number two in the US Jazz charts. This made Expansions one of Flying Dutchman Productions’ most successful albums. 

Meanwhile, club and radio DJs were spinning tracks from Expansions. Belatedly, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes were the flavour of the month among DJs, dancers and discerning record buyers. So, it’s no surprise that Bob Thiele sent Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes into the studio again, where they recorded Visions Of A New World.

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Visions Of A New World.

For Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ fourth album, Visions Of A New World, Lonnie penned seven tracks, including Lonnie’s hopeful anthem, A Chance For Peace. The other track, Devika (Goddess) was written by Dave Hubbard and Sarina Grant. These eight tracks were recorded at Electric Ladyland Studios, New York.

At Electric Ladyland Studios, Bob Thiele and Lonnie Liston produced the eight tracks that eventually became Visions Of A New World. Accompanying Lonnie were The Cosmic Echoes. Their rhythm section featured bassist Greg Maker, drummer Art Gore and Wilby Fletcher and guitarist Reggie Lucas. Percussionists included Michael Carvin, Ray Armando, Angel Allende who added bongos and Lawrence Killian who also played congas. Flautist Donald Smith also added vocals on three tracks. The horn section included soprano saxophonist Dave Hubert, trombonist Clifford Adams and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater. This was a very different lineup of The Cosmic Echoes that featured on Astral Travelling. Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards was the only constant. This constantly evolving lineup didn’t affect the reception of Visions Of A New World.

Just like previous albums, critics hailed Visions Of A New World was hailed an album of ambitious and groundbreaking music. Lonnie Liston Smith was seen as a musical pioneer, capable of creating music that was dreamy, elegiac funky, hopeful, ruminative, sensual, smooth and sultry. It was also ambitious and  innovative, and soon, was hailed a minor classic where elements of free jazz, funk, fusion, rock, smooth jazz and soul.  The result was another album that was way ahead of the musical curve. Visions Of A New World was also Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ most successful album.

When Visions Of A New World was released in the summer of 1975, it reached number seventy-four in the US Billboard 200, fourteen in the US R&B charts and number four in the US Jazz charts. Visions Of A New World was Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes’ most successful album.  After four albums, Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes’ music was reaching a much wider audience. Now Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes had to do it all again on Visions Of A New World.

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Reflections Of A Golden Dream.

For his fifth solo album,  Reflections Of A Golden Dream, Lonnie Liston Smith penned nine tracks, and cowrote Peace and Love with Leopoldo Fleming. The ten tracks were recorded by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes, which featured some top musicians.

Just like with previous albums, the lineup of The Cosmic Echoes seemed in a constant state of flux. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section featured bassist Al Anderson and drummer Art Gore and Wilby Fletcher. Percussionists included Guilherme Franco and Leopoldo Fleming who also added congas and guaitar. Flautist Donald Smith also added vocals on three tracks; while Dave Hubert switched between flute and soprano saxophonist. The horn section also included tenor saxophonist George Opalisky; plus Joe Shepley and Jon Faddis who played trumpet and flugelhorn. Backing vocalists included Maeretha Stewart, Patti Austin and Vivian Cherry. They augmented this latest version of The Cosmic Echoes on Visions Of A New World Astral Travelling. 

Lonnie Liston Smith, played keyboards, piano and added vocals. He also co-produced Reflections Of A Golden Dream with Bob Thiele. However, it later became apparent that Lonnie Liston Smith more or less took charge of production on Reflections Of A Golden Dream. Bob Thiele’s role, was more of an executive producer. That didn’t seem to affect the reviews of Reflections Of A Golden Dream.

Critics, when they received their advance copies of Reflections Of A Golden Dream, found Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes combining dance-floor friendly music with social comment on Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace) and Peace and Love. Meditations featured a much more pensive, spiritual sound; while Journey Into Space saw Lonnie Liston Smith became a musical voyager. Just like previous albums,  Reflections Of A Golden Dream received plaudits and critical acclaim. That was all very well. However, would Reflections Of A Golden Dream ensure that Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes run of commercial success continued?

When Reflections Of A Golden Dream was released in 1976, the album sold well, but didn’t match the commercial success of Visions Of A New World. It remained the most successful album of Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ time at Flying Dutchman Productions. Reflections Of A Golden Dream closed the door on that chapter of Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes career. It was a fitting swan-song for Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.

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After five albums released between 1973 and 1976, Reflections Of A Golden Dream was the last album Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. It proved the perfect label for Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.

Flying Dutchman Productions was no ordinary label though. It was a company where innovators, pioneers and mavericks were welcome. Bob Thiele knew, that within the right environment, innovative and maverick musicians could thrive, creating music that’s influential and forward-thinking. So, Bob Thiele went in search of innovators, pioneers and mavericks. This included Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.

From 1973 to 1976, cosmic jazz visionary, Lonnie Liston Smith, embarked upon what was a three year journey of discovery. During that period, Lonnie Liston Smith flitted between, and combined disparate musical genres. This allowed Lonnie Liston Smith’s to explore new musical possibilities.

Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes combined elements of avant-garde, experimental, free jazz, funk, fusion, jazz, rock and soul. These albums feature music that was innovative and guaranteed to influence other musicians. Lonnie Liston Smith was a leader, not a follower. The  five albums Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions are proof of theism and feature a musical visionary at the peak of his creative powers.

LONNIE LISTON SMITH AND THE COSMIC ECHOES-THE FLYING DUTCHMAN YEARS.

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