Daniel Smith – Bassoon Goes Latin Jazz! – Summit

by | May 15, 2011 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Daniel Smith – Bassoon Goes Latin Jazz! – Summit DCD 560, 53:20 [3/8/11] ***:

(Daniel Smith – bassoon, producer; Daniel Kelly – piano; Michael O’Brien – bass; Vincent Ector – drums; Neil Clarke – Latin percussion; Roswell Rudd – trombone (tracks 2 & 7); Sandro Albert – guitar (tracks 1, 5 & 9))

Innovation is an important part of jazz, whether it is fusing jazz with other musical styles, or creating new melodic or harmonic approaches, or any number of other methods which have driven jazz forward. Bassoonist Daniel Smith continues the jazz tradition by elevating the bassoon from supportive tool to main instrument. His previous similar CDs have been Bebop Bassoon, Blue Bassoon, Swingin’ Bassoon, and this year he follows with Bassoon Goes Latin Jazz!

Smith is undoubtedly most noted for his classical music – his recording of the complete 37 Vivaldi bassoon concerti is considered a triumph – but his thematic jazz albums, which have previously covered bebop and swing, are also reaping critical and fan attention. According to Smith, using bassoon as the front-line instrument in a Latin jazz setting is “something never done before.”  It is unique to hear bassoon leading the way through well-known Latin jazz tunes by Herbie Hancock, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfá, but after the first few bassoon bars are played during the opener, Lee Morgan’s “Mr. Kenyatta,” it is clear Smith and his stellar band are onto something.

Smith’s backing ensemble was hand-picked for this outing and the musicians are a collective powerhouse. Pianist Daniel Kelly, bassist Michael O’Brien, drummer Vincent Ector, percussionist Neil Clarke and guests Roswell Rudd (trombone) and Sandro Albert (guitar) bring a rhythmic flair, a melodic lyricism and a resonant fullness to the 12 tracks.

There are some surprises which enhance the album. While there are bona-fide classics such as “Watermelon Man” and “Black Orpheus,” there are unearthed gems. The most obscure tune is Renato Vasconcellos’ upbeat “Korg In,” based on Brazilian folk music. Ector and Clarke hold a complex drums/percussion interchange which is so heated it nearly burns, but the conflagration is coolly tamped by O’Brien’s persistent bass, while Kelly and Smith add solos which brim with zeal and groove.

Smith is a long-term Charlie Parker admirer and is an individualistic interpreter of Parker’s material. Here Smith gives “Yardbird Suite” a samba feel as he executes – note for note – the solo from Parker’s original recording. In the second chorus, Smith slips in quotes from other Parker cuts which supplement Smith’s respect for Parker. Clarke’s percussion jam near the three-minute mark is another highlight. Appropriately the group follows with a piece from another bebop legend, Dizzy Gillespie, who also led the Latin jazz explosion. The groundbreaking “Manteca” features an expressive improvisation from trombonist Roswell Rudd and one of Smith’s most intricate solos. It must be said: anyone who thinks the bassoon – which is a difficult instrument to master – cannot equal saxophone, clarinet or trumpet has to study Smith’s bassoon workouts.

There are other standout tracks, such as James “Pee Wee” Ellis’ “The Chicken,” with O’Brien’s penetrating bass which evokes but does not copy Jaco Pastorious’ famous version of the same track, the visceral energy which saturates Mongo Santamaria’s “Come Candela” and the intent menace which permeates “Mambo from the Dance at the Gym,” from the climatic fight sequence in West Side Story.

[Sorry to be a wet blanket on this, but some of us are more sensitive than others to musicians being out of tune.  In common with so many vocalists, Smith is way flat on many notes here – especially when he has to jump to a higher register from a lower note. Have to disagree about the Charlie Parker material being “note for note” – Parker played in tune. I don’t recall if  his earlier albums suffered from the same ailment, but I know Smith’s Vivaldi series sounded in tune. Also in common and disagreeing with many “first ever” statements, there were some chamber jazz recordings in the 50s with bassoon as the front-line instrument – I have them…Ed.]
1. Mr. Kenyatta
2. Watermelon Man
3. So Danco Samba
4. Listen Here
5. Black Orpheus
6. Yardbird Suite
7. Manteca
8. Korg In
9. Peace
10. The Chicken
11. Come Candela
12. Mambo from the Dance at the Gym

— Doug Simpson

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