Jimmy Smith retains the trio format and the orchestral attack that he more or less invented for the electric organ in mid-1950s. Last night at Blues Alley, his opening set was characterized by the dynamics and virtuousity one expects from him, but the emotional content seldom rose above good-time bar music. Perhaps we should not seek profundity from Smith, who apparently does not take himself too seriously.
Smith can coax heat from his instrument and at one point waved away imagined smoked with a handkerchief. While he can build to Westminster Abbey organ-size intensity, he can also suddenly drop to a harmonica whimper. One number was structured around half-bar exchanges between the organ and Smith's grunts and another involved a call-and-response game with the audience. Buried beneath his polyphony was the odd musical quote from a standard of yesteryear or a phase in parody of a radio soap opera theme.
Guitarist Phil Upchurch was facile on blues, especially one fire and brimstone sermon on which he shared the pulpit with the leader. A look-mano-hands solo by drummer Michael Baker nearly shattered the applause meter.
The trio will remain through Sunday and guitarist George Benson will sit in on one of the weekend nights.