Friday, October 11, 2019

Some fresh water in the jazz mainstream from the Perry Smith Quartet

Thanks to a mixture of quirky originals and one each from the jazz-standard and the pop-standard book, "Live in
Brooklyn" (Smith Tone Records) renews hope that a distinctive personality, expressed through a small group, can demolish the insistence that jazz must always "advance."

Perry Smith is a guitarist with good taste in sidemen, to start with. This helps his quartet achieve a unity that honors both parts of the repertoire here. His partner in the front line is tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, and often their compatibility is expressed through unison statements of the theme, as in set-opener "Starlit Skies." In addition to the Smith/Aldana soloing, my admiration for drummer Jay Sawyer took root immediately with the soft, effective variety of his patterns with brushes.
Perry Smith is a canny guitarist-bandleader.

The adeptness of Smith and Aldana, however, keeps riveting the attention as the program proceeds. In "Premonition" (another Smith composition), the fast theme holds no terrors for them. The saxophonist's solo is a smoking gem. Smith's is wide-ranging within a brief span; then there are a few two-way exchanges, with Sawyer continuing throughout rather than sharing spotlight cameos as drummers often do in that formula.

I liked the way Aldana makes of "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" something unique and assertive; her solo has surprising swerves from the melody, but remains lyrical. "Golden Days,"  another original, features a gentle Latin pulse, which encourages the laying down of long phrases, but with nothing under strain. The flow is remarkable.

Sonny Stitt's rave-up evergreen "Eternal Triangle" locks into a lickety-split pace in classic bop style. Both Aldana and Smith show excellent poise in their solos, and Sawyer gets extensive display, maintaining the tempo in his solo to put a seal on all the excitement.

Imaginative in the background throughout, bassist Matt Aronoff gets his chance to shine on the set's finale, "All the Things You Are." Smith and Aldana are paired from the start (accompaniment and closely paraphrased melody, respectively), with the other two group members joining in on the bridge. Elaborating on the guitarist's lead, Aldana goes somewhat to the outside in her creatively phrased solo, but maintains coherence.

This version has a strong, punctuated finish on the song's last phrase, as if to explicitly reject the bop tag that has been conventionally applied to the Jerome Kern tune for decades. As I said, refreshing stuff.

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