Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Daniel Smith Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues

The bassoon is an instrument that is associated with classical music and it is out of the classical music world that Daniel Smith has emerged into the jazz world. I was not familiar with him until I received his new Summit Records’ recording “Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues” which is his 5th jazz recording (and 2nd apparently to focus on the blues).

He is backed on this by a solid rhythm section of Robert Bosscher-Piano/Arranger, Michael O’Brien-Bass, and Vincent Ector-Drums. There are also guest artists Ron Jackson-Guitar, Efrat Shapira-Violin, Neil Clarke-Latin Percussion, Greg ‘Organ Monk’ Lewis-Jazz Organ, and Frank Senior-Vocalist. They handle a program of blues (and blues-associated numbers that include Jimmy Forrest’s “Night Train”; Charles Mingus’ “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” Jimmy Smith’s “Back At The Chicken Shack”; Ray Charles’ "What’d I Say"; and “Hallelujah I Love Her So”: Sonny Rollins’ “Blue Seven”; Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues”: Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues”; and Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’.”

I have no issue with Smith’s technical command of what is a somewhat cumbersome instrument to play, much less swing. The issue is the bassoon has a sour sound to these ears which may limit its audience. This is not to say that there is some very intriguing playing, including from those of Smith’s rhythm section as well as his guest artists. I find Shapira’s violin quite engaging and the unison parts of her and Smith provide more comfortable listening. She certainly makes distinctive contributions to “Night Train” and Senor Blues” for example. On the latter number, pianist Bosscher has a nice break.

Senior adds some vocals to a couple of Ray Charles numbers with O’Brien taking a nice bowed solo on “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” while Lewis’ adds greasy Hammond B-3 to “Back to the Chicken Shack” and “C Jam Blues,” on which guitarist Jackson sparkles with his crisp, clean fretwork. Smith is brave to handle the challenges of the Mingus and Rollins compositions and his playing on a lesser known Nat Adderley composition “Hummin’” is fascinating with some bluesy single note playing from Jackson and the rendition of Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’” is also is also engaging with significant contributions from Jackson and Shapira along with a tight solo from O’Brien.

The reservations about this recording lie in the bassoon’s sonority that makes listening to “Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues” a challenge, despite the high level of musicianship as the novelty of a jazz bassoon may wear off for some. This might be best sampled a few tracks at a time.

A publicist provided my review copy. This review appeared in the September-October 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 356). Here is a video of Smith captured in performance.

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