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The Music Blog of the Kansas City Star

June 17, 2007
By: Michael Judge

The Javon Jackson Group with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Les McCann Jackson’s band definitely plays jazz-funk, but it’s jazz-funk of a sort that includes absolutely nothing cloying or saccharine. The athletic, heavy quartet plays a stripped-down sort of guerrilla funk with as much drawn from James Brown and Fela Kuti as Miles and the genre’s ’70s legends.

They embody the unique combination of warmth and get-on-the-good-foot intensity often found in the best of their style. Jackson’s friendly demeanor and muscular, jocular solos providing the amiability and the fury coming from the truly immense sounds of bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Rudy

Royston, a man who doesn’t play fills as much as he triggers avalanches. Special mention goes to guitarist David Gilmore, who deals with what must be the continual annoyance of not being that David Gilmour in the best possible way: His solos left the people in back going nuts and the people in front scurrying to lift their jaws off the grass.

It’s a well-known legend that Miles planned to record with Jimi Hendrix before the latter’s untimely death, and one imagines that the result might’ve sounded something like Gilmore’s playing Saturday afternoon. He’s harmonically expansive, deeply lyrical, and (when necessary) blindingly fleet. Don’t be surprised if the next guitarist with his name has to live up to his legacy as well as the Pink Floyd Gilmour’s.

Things only improved with the entrance of the legendarily eccentric Dr. Lonnie Smith. He’s the kind of man that can append “Dr.” to his name and wear a turban while performing for, in his own words, “no particular reason” and make both seem logical, even necessary. A true master of the Hammond organ, his rhythmic and tonal acuity are such that he can ride out a single note with a few chord stabs here and there for 32 bars and not only is it not, boring, it’s charismatically arresting.

He almost instantly transformed from the quizzical guy in the turban to Most Benevolent High Priest of Funk, playing in a sort of continual dance with hands-waving benedictions overhead and the organ shouting the cosmic blessings. He ?earned a standing ovation after his first tune.

After a smoking version of the good doctor’s “If You See Kay” (say that slowly to yourself), in which the band vamped unbelievably hard and Smith got further and further out with the bluesy chord changes until they were somewhere in deep space, the assembly was joined by the godfather of soul-jazz, pianist Les McCann.

Though he was led onstage by a flock of assistants, the 71-year old McCann quickly established himself as the group’s rowdiest — and most senior — presence. Not a lot of septuagenarians will introduce themselves with the line, “It’s been a while since I was back in this sad-ass town,” and then let out a gruff cackle, but McCann might as well be 25 for the effect the years have had on his playing and personality.

His pianism still takes the frenzied testifying of a Pentecostal church and plants it firmly in the red-light district, all funky double stops and
rhythmic broadsides. The furious version of his classic “Compared to What?” was perhaps the highlight of the entire festival: As he belted out the lines, “The President, he’s got his war / Folks don’t know just what it’s for / Nobody gives us rhyme or reason / Have one doubt, they call it treason,” the flames coming from Smith and the Jackson group climbed higher and higher and all was in harmony.