Daniel Smith – Bebop Bassoon (Smith, bassoon; Martin Bejerano, piano; John Sullivan, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums) – ZahZah

by | May 3, 2006 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Daniel Smith – Bebop Bassoon (Smith, bassoon; Martin Bejerano, piano; John Sullivan, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums) – ZahZah ZZCD 9820, 45:11 (Distr. by Albany) ****:

What a kick is this CD! It should appeal to both chamber jazz lovers and chamber music fans. Though recorded in NYC and mixed at Big Dog/Fat Cat Studios in Florida, it somehow fits that a Swiss CD label picked this unique session to release commercially.

Smith holds the claim to being the world’s most-recorded bassoonist. He did all 37 Vivaldi bassoon concertos for the ASV label, and is the only bassoonist performing and recording in both the jazz and classical fields.  Smith has been written up in papers and magazines worldwide, including The New York Times, and has been referred to as the “Gerry Mulligan of the Bassoon.” Last year composer/arranger Robert Farnon dedicated his final work to Daniel Smith: a three-movement bassoon concerto titled “Romancing the Phoenix.”

I recall fondly the jazz oboe excursions of Bob Cooper from the 50s, and the bassoon is really the same thing except going down an octave or so. The task of playing jazz on the bassoon is not an easy one, though. The instrument is the hardest member of the woodwinds to play (although the French horn is no picnic either).  Playing concert music is difficult enough, but jazz phrases are much more difficult to play on a bassoon than on, say, a saxophone. Smith sounds like he has no trouble at all – but isn’t that the secret of great performing ability – to make it look or sound like it’s not difficult? Smith says in his introduction in the notes that he has to wear “two hats” – one keeping a conservatory-trained concept in place when playing with an orchestra or ensemble, and then switching completely to another way of thinking and playing in the world of jazz.

After a track or two of these jazz standards I began to get past the oddity of the bassoon in jazz and was just thinking of the soloist as being an unusual sort of bass clarinet or sax. Thoughts of the opening of The Rite of Spring came to mind hearing Smith’s high register treatment of Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie, and the low end comes to the fore in several other tracks, mixing beautifully with the drums and bass.  For me the highlight track was Miles Davis’ All Blues.  What a different version of this classic which we’ve all heard so many many times! Smith sounds even more mournful than Miles! Hey, now I gotta pick up on this cat’s earlier two CDs: Bassoon and Beyond, and The Swinging Bassoon. Groovy to the max!

Tracks: Killer Joe, Anthropology, Blue Monk, Sister Sadie, In a Sentimental Mood, All Blues, Doxy, Up Against the Wall, Birk’s Works, Stickey Wicket

– John Sunier

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