Lonnie Liston Smith
Visions Of A New World






Visions Of A New World is the attempt of pianist Lonnie Liston Smith (born 1940) to unite his expertise in Funk with more soulful rhythms. This leads to the simultaneous kick-off of this very formula which he adhered to throughout the rest of the 70’s. Released in 1975 on the Flying Dutchman label, a division of RCA, and sporting a front artwork that seems like a feature photograph of a Bud Spencer flick, it harbors eight versatile tracks that shuffle between completely beatless states, aerose diffractions, slowed down zero-gravity locales and tropical territories, the latter of which are surely of the greatest interest to the Exotica connoisseur.


With the exception of Smith’s electric piano and Greg Maker’s bass, all instruments and drums are real; this includes a battery of Brazilian percussion devices as well as the bongos and congas played by Angel Allende and Lawrence Killian respectively. In order to stress the smoother, less spiky approach, saxophonist Dave Hubbard is given an important role in the album, as he in tandem with Clifford Adams and Cecil Bridgewater ennobles the already mellow states with a variety of horns and woodwinds. Vocalist Donald Smith appears in four tracks, with the remaining ones being instrumentals. To give a short summary in advance: Lonnie Liston Smith’s subsequent albums are carved out much better. And another problem occurs, for Funk records –as well as the vast majority of all albums reviewed at AmbientExotica – aren’t the best expressionistic form for topics such as war, affliction and sorrow, especially not once they are coupled with languorous braidings, synth washes, cozy downbeats. Those who are willed to detach the overarching agenda from the soundscapes are in for a dreamy record though, one which will be further analyzed below.


The track title evokes the aura of protest marches, teary-eyed pleas and hopeless endeavors in wound-up times, but A Chance For Peace wouldn’t be an original L. L. Smith piece if it were to address the portent of a pressing issue in a realistic way. It so happens, of course, that this is a clear-cut Funk critter with an easygoing beat, whirling guitar structures by Reggie Lucas and of course the glacial pointillism of Smith’s electric piano which shuttles between glacial coldness and mellifluous warmth. Together with Donald Smith’s soulful vocals about the topic as depicted by the title, the various brass stebs, cowbells and Brazilian percussion round off a surprisingly indistinct dreamworld whose attached title doesn’t translate into a wealth of staggering issues. A most transfigured but unfortunately arbitrary result.


The adjacent downbeat mélange Love Beams, however, succeeds due to its stacked sinews of Dave Hubbard’s dreamy soprano saxophone and Angel Allende’s bongo punctilio. The oneiric warmth is revved up and backed by artificial chirps and pristine glissandos of the electric piano. Flamenco-esque castanets are a tad de trop in these surroundings, but that’s nit-picking, as reflection and genuflection ensue in equal portions. While Colors Of The Rainbow is an unexpectedly pastoral – and beatless – Ambient vignette full of crystalline driblets and simmering chord progressions, Devika (Goddess) is a cavernous-echoey instrumental of cosmic reticulation, glistening triangles, conga backends and dreamful states.


Side B is slightly more progressive which, in the name of Funk, shouldn’t be taken overly seriously. Lonnie Liston Smith and his men balance between true-bred Funk and moirés sans beats yet again. The kick-off Sunset paints a fan of orange colors with the aid of wonderfully viscid piano cotyledons, cajoling wind chimes and uplifting backing chords of the hopeful kind. Since all of these things are poured into a slow beat, the constant amount of micro-pauses and short interstices caulked with reverb and sustain create a vanillarific flow whose gustatory aura is eminently dreamlike and even a tiny bit psychedelic, thus making it a strong composition overall.


Up next is the ever-important two-part suite Visions Of A New World that lent this album its name. Both parts – or phases – combined make up a runtime of approximately six minutes only, but their split does make sense, for a serration would be hard to achieve: Phase I returns to the soothing ambience of side A’s Colors Of The Rainbow by presenting a cross-linkage between piano-based parallax oscillations, Donald Smith’s viscid vox… and not much else. This is actually a good thing for a change, as the minimalism augments the quasi-serious topic, a realm which is then completely neglected in Phase II, the fastest Funk fanfare of the whole album. Caíxa percussion, Dave Hubbard’s saxophone-induced pipe dreams, legato icicles and an array of arpeggiated scrimshaw in the veins of bongos, congas and crunchy guitars puts the finishing touches to this little suite before the real finale Summer Nights slows down the beats per minutes decidedly and ends the album in a contemplative manner. Amethystine wordless vocals, mellow cymbal veils, emerald electric piano sparks and laid-back bongo beats aurally paint a pre-Vaporwave night.


Visions Of A New World offers a selection of five good old-fashioned slowed down Funk adventures and throws in an uptempo counterpoint as well as two beatless vignettes of atmospheric craftsmanship. So far, so good. Considering both the title and the topics of love and mutual understanding that are embedded within the vocals, however, Lonnie Liston Smith’s work is ultimately meaningless in this specific regard. Sure, it is just music after all, this is neither a Prog Rock work nor a dedicated concept album per se, so it will still work as a collection of tracks, as is the case with the overwhelming majority of all those Exotica and Space-Age records that are reviewed here. The problem lies within the genre itself, for Funk is too oneiric or sleazy or remote a genre to fully encapsulate the grave implications of a world where ubiquitous peace isn’t reached yet. In addition, Lonnie Liston Smith is primarily known for creating thickly wadded synth-oid Funk works that maintain their lush afterglow even when more fragile and minimal sections are reached in a track.


Sparklers such as Exotic Mysteries and Loveland (both 1978) do not only encapsulate the spirit of Exotica, they are "harmless" enough for the funk to take over and translate the blurry themes into artistic expressions that are – now reversely – meaningful even though their basic premises are lightweight and mundane. Visions Of A New World provides fuzzy concepts and rough sketches at best, but in regard to the soundscapes themselves suddenly opens up a cornucopia of delightful states of uncertainty whose limbo offers the ethereality that fans of L. L. Smith love to absorb. Exotica fans who don’t shy away from multitudes of Funk will find solace in the use of real Latin percussion and quasi-paradisiac vignettes. Available on vinyl, CD and as a download.


Exotica Review 405: Lonnie Liston Smith – Visions Of A New World (1975). Originally published on Jan. 10, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.