The concept behind saxophonist Craig Handy’s first album as leader since 2000, Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith is to take music associated with the great jazz organist Jimmy Smith and infuse it with the New Orleans second line vibe. He’s not necessarily looking to replicate the music of New Orleans, but as he explains on a YouTube video, it is his feeling that the music of Louisiana is the foundation of all of American music, everything from jazz to rock and roll. His aim is to use that tradition as a “launch pad to foster creativity and develop new ideas.” Judging by the new album, his aim is true; the mix of Smith and New Orleans has produced some exciting new music, music that you’ll want to listen to over and over again.
Working with Kyle Koehler on Hammond B-3, Matt Chertkoff on guitar, a trio of New Orleans drummers—Jason Marsalis, Herlin Riley and Ali Jackson—as well as a number of all-star guests on several tracks, Wynton Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Clarence Spady, Handy honors both Smith and the second line by growing the tradition. Growth means new life and if there’s one thing this album has, it is new life.
It’s not only Smith that gets some love on the disc, the 10-song set opens with an homage to Stanley Turrentine, a sax man who never seemed to feel bound by genre, moving happily thorough bop and crossover, with his “Minor Chant.” Dee Dee Bridgewater does her thing with “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” which Handy begins and ends with a growling taste of “Temptation.” They follow with the classic “Organ Grinder’s Swing,” featuring some sweet interplay between Koehler and Handy, as well as a swinging solo from Chertkoff.
The authentic soulful second line sound echoes through the Ivory Joe Hunter rhythm and blues hit, “I Almost Lost My Mind,” with some elegant backing from Jason Marsalis. Spady does the vocal and Wynton Marsalis adds dynamic trumpet accents to “Got My Mojo Workin,’” and sousaphone specialist Clark Gayton makes a welcome addition to “High Heel Sneakers.” They do a kind of funky take on “Ready and Able,” and there is some interesting interplay between Handy on the soprano sax and Riley on drums. “O.G.D. aka Road Song” and “I’ll Close My Eyes” with some featured wailing sax from Handy complete this fine album.
While some may take Handy’s claims for the New Orleans musical tradition as hyperbole, the music on this album goes a long way to proving his point.