LONNIE LISTON SMITH AND THE COSMIC ECHOES-RENAISSANCE.
dereksmusicblog ♦ November 29, 2021 ♦ Leave a comment
Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes-Renaissance.
Innovative, influential and way ahead of the musical curve, describes the music of Lonnie Liston Smith, and specially the five albums he recorded with The Cosmic Echoes for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions between 1973 and 1976 This began with Astral Travelling in 1973 with Cosmic Funk followed in 1974. This was just the start.
Expansions which followed in 1975 featured Lonnie Liston Smith at the peak of his powers on what was the most successful album of his career. He had brought onboard his brother Donald, whose vocals added a new dimension to the groundbreaking music.
Later in 1975, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Visions Of A New World. It was their penultimate album for Flying Dutchman Productions which was tailor made for pioneering artists like Lonnie Liston Smith. It was a smaller label where artists were encouraged to experiment and innovate and produce music the music that they really wanted. Often this resulted in albums of groundbreaking music. This included Reflections Of A Golden Dream which was released in 1976, and turned out to be Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ swan-song for Flying Dutchman Productions.
In 1976, there was a takeover of Flying Dutchman Productions by RCA. After some changes at the parent company it was decided to release Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ next album on RCA rather than Flying Dutchman Productions. It was the end of an era. However, Renaissance which has just been reissued by BGP, was another album of innovative music from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.
Led by musical visionary Lonnie Liston Smith Renaissance finds him pushing musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes, beyond. That’s had been the story of his career which began a decade earlier. Since then, the 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 would become a musicians. He was born in 1940, into a musical family and 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 Liston Smith 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 Lonnie Liston Smith embarked upon a degree in musical education. Throughout his time at University, he 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 Lonnie Liston Smith walked straight into a job.
On leaving Morgan State University, Lonnie Liston Smith 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 Liston Smith 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 Lonnie Liston Smith was luck enough to get a gig playing piano in Betty Carter’s band. This helped Lonnie Liston Smith get his name known in the Big Apple. Then in early 1965, he 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 Liston Smith only played on the title-track, Making Love After Hours, Yesterdays and Step Right Up. Then he featured on Roland andAl Hibbler’s 1965 live album A Meeting Of The Times. After this, he 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 Liston Smith joined in 1965. He shared the role with Mick Nock and Keith Jarrett. However, with The Jazz Messengers ever evolving lineup and only played three in concerts. These three concerts just so happened to be at the legendary Village Vanguard. For Lonnie Liston Smith, despite the prestigious venue, this must have been a disappointing time. Luckily, he was rehired by Roland Kirk.
Lonnie Liston Smith rejoined Roland Kirk’s band in time to play on his 1968 album Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith. This established his reputation as the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a pianist. It was the start of period where Lonnie Liston Smith 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 Saunders formed a new band. Their music is best described as groundbreaking free jazz. Musical boundaries were pushed to their limits and beyond by one of the genre’s pioneers. Recognising a fellow believer in free jazz, Pharaoh Saunders asked Lonnie Liston Smith to join his band.
He went on to play on three of Pharaoh Saunders 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 Liston Smith played on was 1970s Summun Bukmun Umyun. which was released on Impulse. Just like the three albums Pharaoh Saunders recorded for Flying Dutchman Productions it was a innovative album that was way ahead of the musical curve.
During this period, Pharaoh Saunders and his band were constantly pushing boundaries and rewriting the musical rulebook. Their music was truly groundbreaking. Even Lonnie Liston Smith was challenged. On Thembi, Pharaoh asked Lonnie to play the Fender Rhodes. This was the first time that Lonnie Liston Smith 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 Liston Smith would play with some of jazz’s maverick.
One of these mavericks was Gato Barbieri. He had 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 Thiele believed musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment like a major label. Their creativity was restricted meaning that were unable to experiment and innovate like they would like. So, he signed Gato Barbieri to Flying Dutchman and Lonnie Liston Smith was asked to play on his 1969 debut album The Third World.
The next signing to Flying Dutchman Productions was Leon Thomas, and Lonnie Liston Smith played on his debut album Spirits Known and Unknown. Soon, Lonnie was a regular at Flying Dutchman sessions.
When the time came for Gato Barbieri to record his 1971 sophomore album Fenix, Lonnie Liston Smith was called upon. He played on Fenix and joined Gato Barbieri’s band. Je played on Gato’s 1972 album El Pampero and toured throughout Europe with the band. Then came the opportunity of a lifetime. After El Pampero, Lonnie Liston Smith got the chance to work with another jazz legend.
Liston Smith was a member of Gato Barbieri’s band when Miles Davis got in touch. He wanted the pianist to join his band. At this time, Miles Davis’ music was changing direction. The direction it was heading in was funk. Electronic instruments were the flavour of the month for Miles Davis and he was exploring their possibilities. However, he was doing this outside the studio environment. That’s why there are very few recordings of Lonnie Liston Smith playing alongside Miles Davis at that time. That came later when Lonnie Liston Smith subsequently worked with Miles. Meanwhile, he decided to move on with his solo career and his debut album Astral Travelling.
When recording of Astral Travelling began, Lonnie Liston Smith 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.
Cosmic Funk featured six tracks, three of which Lonnie Liston Smith 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.
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. This safeguarded Flying Dutchman Productions’ future. By then, Bob Thiele had discovered RCA wanted sales, and 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.
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 Liston Smith’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.
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. However, it turned out that Reflections Of A Golden Dream was the last album that Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions.
By 1976, changes were afoot at Flying Dutchman Productions. Bob Thiele’s label had been taken over by RCA who had distributed the label since 1972. Straight away, RCA began a review of their latest acquisition.
Eventually, RCA decided that the only artist from the Flying Dutchman Productions’ roster they wanted to keep was Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. This wasn’t good news for the label Bob Thiele had spent years building up. Worse was to come for him. He would be retained as a producer on a project-by-project basis. This began with Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’s album Renaissance.
For Renaissance, which was Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’s debut for RCA Victor, the bandleader and pianist wrote five tracks. This included Space Lady, Mardi Gras (Carnival), Starlight And You, A Song Of Love and Between Here. He also wrote the music to Renaissance which features lyrics by Jeff Gaines. Meanwhile, Dave Hubbard had written Mongotee which would feature on Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes sixth album of cosmic jazz, Renaissance.
Bob Thiele brought Horace Ott onboard to arrange the strings, woodwinds and backing vocals on Renaissance. It was another ambitious, innovative genre-melting album from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.
When recording began, Harvey Goldberg was the engineer and would later mix the album with Bob Thiele. The latest incarnation of The Cosmic Echoes was a multitalented and versatile band who were capable of making groundbreaking music. It featured a rhythm section of drummer Wilby Fletcher and bassist Al Anderson. They were joined by Gene Bertoncini on acoustic guitar, Leon Pendarvis on clavinet, conga player Lawrence Killian, percussionist Guilherme Franco and Ken Bichel on Moog synth. Two musicians who played an important role on David Renaissance were Hubbard who played flute, tenor and soprano saxophone while Donald Smith played flute and added vocals. Bandleader Lonnie Liston Smith switched between acoustic and electric piano and coproduced the album with Bob Thiele who had mixed Renaissance.
When Renaissance was released it was to plaudits and praise. Critics were impressed with an album that combined cosmic jazz and jazz funk. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes had effortlessly combined to create a musical potpourri that was melodic, rhythmic and continued the spiritual consciousness of previous albums. Later, the album would be considered a cosmic jazz classic. That’s no surprise given the quality of music on the album.
Renaissance opens with Space Lady where cosmic jazz and jazz funk are combined by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. They then unleash the jazz dance classic Mardi Gras (Carnival) which is one of the highlights of the album. Starlight and You which features a vocal masterclass from Donald Smith is a beautiful cinematic ballad that’s often overlooked and is one of the hidden gems on the album. Very different is Mongotee which heads in the direction of jazz. It’s all change on the dancer A Song Of Love which benefits from an emotive and heartfelt vocal from Donald Smith. However, the thoughtful, pensive and spacey sounding Between Here And There is without doubt one of the album’s finest moments. Bringing Renaissance to a close is the title-track which features lyrics by Jeff Gaines. Originally the song was going to be an instrumental but a chance meeting resulted in the lyrics being written and a new ending to Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ sixth album and RCA Victor debut.
Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ sixth album and RCA Victor debut was an captivating and eclectic mixture of moods and musical genres. It finds the pioneering bandleader and pianist leading a band on Renaissance which later became a cosmic jazz classic. However, it’s not just a cosmic jazz that features on Renaissance. There’s also jazz funk and elements of avant-garde, experimental, free jazz, funk, fusion and jazz on what was a truly ambitious album.
Renaissance like the five albums that Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions was an innovative genre-melting album that is still influenced a new generation of musicians. That’s no surprise as Lonnie Liston Smith was a leader, not a follower, and pioneer whose music was way ahead of his time. Renaissance. and the albums that Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Flying Dutchman Productions feature a true musical visionary at the peak of his considerable creative powers.
Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes-Renaissance.