Kansas Smitty’s House Band – Kansas Smitty’s Live
(kansassmittys.com – CD review by Mark McKergow)
Kansas Smitty’s continue their rise and rise with this attractive second album of stylish originals performed with huge skill and aplomb. The band, the only one in London with their own eponymous bar – in Broadway Market E8 – have achieved the unusual feat of establishing a recognisable signature sound that is rooted fair and square in pre-war jazz traditions.
This recording follows on from the band’s debut, which was notable for getting ten well-performed original numbers into a mere 40 minutes, as if in tribute to the focused time restrictions of the 78rpm gramophone. This time the band are positively expansive, with eight tunes over a similar duration. Even though this doesn’t look like a huge difference, it does allow the group a little more time for stretching out, and the soloing – normally featuring one or two performers on each track – is particularly impressive throughout. The live-with-an-audience recording from ‘the heart of Soho’ captures the crowd’s warm response most attractively.
Once again all eight tracks are originals, with writing shared between altoist/clarinettist and leader Giacomo Smith, pianist Joe Webb, bass player Ferg Ireland and trumpeter Pete Horsfall. Each tune has a distinct feel, from the opening ragtime of Whiskey Rag (featuring some very fine clarinet from Adrian Cox, complete with shrieks, growls and fluency in all registers) to the lilting closing adieu Goodbye My Friends sung by Horsfall in his smooth and liquid style. (Horsfall’s own EP How Can We Know? was released at the end of 2016, and I suspect there’s more to come.)
The variety and skill of this recording is outstanding. The swinging romp Anita shows Giacomo Smith in fine form as he extends over some boppish phrasing, Here’s To Huw is a rhythm section feature that brings Dave Archer’s guitar to the fore, and North Henry Street’s bouncing mainstream swing has space for Pedro Segundo to shine behind the drumkit. As on the first CD, Smitty’s find space for a guest performer and blues guitarist Marcus Bonfanti steps up for a rocking run at his Messin’ Around No More (which also allows Giacomo Smith to show off his rock’n’roll sax tone).
The overall impression from this collection is a super combination of tight writing and performing and exuberant soloing and spirit. I expect Kansas Smitty’s to continue to impress in London and elsewhere – they have a four-night residency at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival this year, a chance for a wider audience to catch up with their playful punch-on-the-nose straight ahead style.