Classics: Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes – Expansions (Flying Dutchman)
From the very first notes of ‘Expansions’ you know… You know you’re in front of one of those legendary masterpieces that stands as a part of History!
From Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes‘s second album of the likes which saw the light back in 1975… The stellar ‘Expansions’, featuring his brother, Donald on vocals and flute, just seems like hailing from another galaxy. Unsurprisingly standing as his signature jam, it influenced countless artists. From Stetsasonic who sampled it on their memorable ‘Talkin’ All That Jazz’. To Defected Records CEO Simon Dunmore who did the same back in 1989. This on his remix of Monie Love‘s ‘Down To Earth’. Meanwhile blending it with Roy Ayers‘ ‘Hey Uh-What You Say Come On’. Not to mention Light Of The World, but also Scott Grooves along with Roy Ayers who gave it some cover versions.
Not to be confused with Lonnie Smith. A Hammond B3 organ Jazz whom some of you might remember of for the infectious ‘Funk Reaction’ back in 1978. Lonnie Liston Smith, Jr. was born and raised in Richmond, VA to a musical family. His father happened to be a member of local Gospel group The Harmonizing Four. And his younger brother, Donald, occassionally sang on some of his works.
Lonnie studied piano, tuba and trumpet during his scholarship. Quoting Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane as major influences, he received a B.S. in music education from Morgan State University in Baltimore back in 1961.
Two years later, Smith moved to the Big Apple. Playing with various luminaries. From Betty Carter to Roland Kirk, joining Art Blakey‘s Jazz Messengers for some time. Then Pharoah Sanders in 1968, eventually contributing to the recording of the seminal ‘The Creator Has A Masterplan’. Then Gato Barbieri in the early 70’s.
Just like Roy Ayers did with Ubiquity, he formed his own band, Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes, in 1973. This along with his partner in Pharoah Sanders group, Cecil McBee, on bass. But also James Mtume (percussion) among others.
A period which corresponds with the new direction not only he but also Herbie Hancock, Ayers and Idris Muhammad would give to their respective approaches. Thus putting music to a whole new dimension while fusing elements of Soul, Jazz and Funk. If not Disco or Eletronic. Eventually breaking with his early Hardcore Free Jazz fans. But in the meantime making friends with a brand (more open-minded) new audience and building up for himself a reputation as one of the absolute masters of fusion. With his music regarded as influential in genres such as Acid Jazz, Jazz/Funk, Smooth Jazz and eventually Hip-Hop…
I guess it’s fair to say Smith owes a lot to Bob Thiele who came to sign him twice as a matter of fact. With the first time back in the mid 70’s on Flying Dutchman. And the second, in the early 80’s on his newly formed Doctor Jazz label.
Standing among his essential works back then, the absolutely mythic ‘Expansions’ which Simon Dunmore eventually sampled of his memorable remix of Monie Love‘s ‘Down To Earth’. But also ‘Get Down Everybody’ and the Latinesque ‘Give Peace A Chance’. This in addition to the Disco fueled ‘Space Princess’ which he released under his own name in 1978 with production work courtesy of Bert DeCoteaux. And, last but not least, ‘Never Too Late’ featuring the instantly recognizable Marcus Miller on bass back in 1983…