Friday, April 23, 2021

Guitarist Perry Smith takes fresh but not showy approach to standards

Perry Smith ends this attractive disc (in release today) with three solo tracks that confirm his attraction to the standards that unify "Peace" (Smith Tone Records). Otherwise, he fronts his regular trio in a cohesive program.

Perry Smith, no showboat, looks toward the light.

Despite its flowering into large-scale electronic projection through the triumph of rock, the classical voice of the guitar is soft-spoken and introspective, and had been carried over into jazz by many players.

This is crucial to Smith's style, and he has support in two-thirds of the selections here of two like-minded sidemen: Sam Minaie, bass, and Dan Schnelle, drums. The Brooklyn resident's West Coast background may account for the appeal of risking understatement, insofar as the "cool school" deep in California jazz history may incline him toward banking his fires, inviting the listener to meet him halfway.

He mixes respectful nods to the Great American Songbook with interpretations of jazz hits, including Horace Silver's "Peace," which lends its name to this release. In this category, a fortunate choice is "U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)," a Billy Strayhorn piece I've loved for years as played by Dizzy Gillespie with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Smith's trio imparts a relaxed swing to the piece, which suits its long, well-draped phrases. There's a quiet swagger to the performance at this tempo.

The most high-profile piece from the jazz repertory is the oft-performed "A Child Is Born," by Thad Jones. Smith offers a fresh take on it, and also does well in closing the disc out unaccompanied in Victor Schertzinger's  "I Remember You" and Arthur Schwartz's "Alone Together," a standard much-covered by jazzmen.

Of the trio tracks, "Like Someone in Love" displays the subtle way the bassist can kick the theme along rhythmically, allowing Smith some freedom in elaborating the melody in waltz time. In return, the guitarist sets up Minaie's solo nicely before the ensemble returns to restate the tune. The bassist is also in fine fettle on the disc's title track. 

Smith's tone has a restrained resonance, with some ringing out on long notes. In "Darn That Dream," he's unaccompanied at first, with the ensemble meshing in the second chorus. There are judicious harmonies throughout, and an out-of-tempo coda for solo guitar rounds out the performance neatly. 

Going slightly to the outside, the performance of Sam Rivers' "Cyclic Episode" coheres elegantly over the wide-ranging theme. The bass line soon takes over, and Smith's comping has imaginative flair.  Despite his harmonic astuteness, Smith does not shy away from any tune he's interpreting; his solo in "This Nearly Was Mine" often paraphrases the Rodgers and Hammerstein song, and the bassist follows suit. The melody instruments in this trio never just run the changes, and the drummer seems to endorse their "singing" suggestions as well.

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