(Whirlwind Records WR4718. CD review by Mike Collins)
Unvarnished, stripped down, not quite unplugged but it could have been, for this recording Walter Smith has gone back to the source with just bass and drums for company and the standards for repertoire.
He’s been playing in some of the most adventurous and challenging acoustic jazz line-ups in recent years, for this recording however the approach is direct. There are no tricky arrangements, just the band bringing all their attention and experience to bear in the moment. And it’s a formidable band. Behind the kit is Smith’s long-time collaborator Eric Harland. The bass duties are split between regular bass player Harish Raghaven and guest Christian McBride. If you’re going to call a fellow tenorist to sit in on a couple of tunes, then Joshua Redman is pretty hot company to keep.
The result is a collection of eight tunes, one Smith original based on Like Someone in Love, called Contrefact in case we didn’t quite get the origins, and seven, some-more-standard-than-others pieces. They burst with energy. The clarity, economy and fluency of Smith’s ideas and the interplay in the band is compelling.
They kick off with Monk’s Ask Me Now. Harland skitters and slides under the melody launching them into a fractured tumbling swing. He’s an immense presence throughout, never overwhelming but always generating a tingling momentum. Nobody Else But Me seems to hurtle along. On On The Trail, the combination of Redmond and Smith dancing around each other and McBride digging in at steady tempo is explosive. Peacocks get’s a more impressionistic reading and Contrefact is a tour de force, the boppish head delivered at pace with Redman and Smith locked together setting the scene for a rousing finale.
It’s a studio recording that has the fizz and crackle of a live performance and a sense of things happening in the moment. I’ll be Seeing You showcases Smith’s ability to shift and bend the impression of the melody without ever quite stating it, and then McBride suddenly finds a spooky vamp to take them out. They constantly remind us that “less is more”. There’s a muted, restrained edge to Adam’s Apple which seems to distill the intensity.
This is a recording that’s going to be lodged firmly on this listener’s playlist for a while.
Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman