Jasmine Lovell-Smith’s Towering Poppies – Yellow Red Blue – Paint Box

by | Mar 11, 2017 | Jazz CD Reviews

A musical trip which comprises flowers to kings to family to mountains.

Jasmine Lovell-Smith’s Towering Poppies – Yellow Red Blue [TrackList follows] – Paint Box, 53:18 [11/4/16] ****:

(Jasmine Lovell-Smith – soprano sax, producer; Josh Sinton – bass clarinet; Cat Toren – p.; Adam Hopkins – bass; Kate Gentile – drums; Cuarteto la Matraca: Elena Makhnev – v., Raúl Moreno – v., Rolando Vidal – viola, Jesús Gutiérrez – cello (tracks 3, 5, 7))

Soprano saxophonist Jasmine Lovell-Smith continues her musical journey with her 53-minute sophomore album, Yellow Red Blue, the follow-up to her 2012 debut, Fortune Songs. There’s an underlying international shade to the eight tunes (seven originals and a Joni Mitchell song), although it’s not overtly apparent. The material was penned in Wellington, New Zealand (the country where Lovell-Smith was raised and got her Bachelor of Music degree at Massey University), Brooklyn, NY (New York is where she formed her quintet, Towering Poppies), Middletown, CT (she received a Master of Arts in composition from Wesleyan University) and Morelia, Mexico (she lived in Mexico for a brief time). The music also has some light Mexican influences due to the inclusion of Cuarteto la Matraca (a string quartet) on three cuts, where a chamber jazz inclination prevails.

Lovell-Smith starts with the graciously melodic and effervescent “The Pillow Book,” which musically somewhat makes reference to a published diary written by a Japanese consort in early Japan. While there are no explicit Asian motifs, Lovell-Smith and her band offer a few feathery Asian musical hints in the warm and tender arrangement. There are some nice solo moments from Lovell-Smith and bass clarinetist Josh Sinton, while winsome rhythmic support comes from drummer Kate Gentile, bassist Adam Hopkins and pianist Cat Toren. Things get more incisive during “Wonter Winderland,” where the groove is skittish and jittery. Toren spins out an empathic keyboard improvisation, and Gentile sprinkles in percussive components atop her cymbals and toms work. The quintet goes slow and emotional on a sparkling rendition of Mitchell’s “I Had a King,” on obscure character study from Mitchell’s 1967 debut LP. Mitchell is noted for her storytelling, and so it’s interesting to listen how Lovell-Smith and Towering Poppies manage to turn this tale of a king and his sad bride into an instrumental which still conveys Mitchell’s lyrics which are filled with melancholy and disappointment.

The three compositions with Cuarteto la Matraca (Elena Makhnev and Raúl Moreno on violin, Rolando Vidal on viola and Jesús Gutiérrez on cello) superbly and wonderfully fuse jazz and classical inspirations in lovely ways. The title track blends sax, clarinet and strings into a soft chamber music approach, where the strings provide a sunset-like coloring, washing the arrangement with affecting sonority. The pulsing “Familia” layers in some traditional Mexican elements alongside the jazz and classical parts. The arrangement is lively and pivots and shifts, like the soundtrack for two modern dancers moving adroitly across a wooden dance floor. The lengthy “Moving Mountains” is more intrepid in its balance of jazz and modern classical tones. Lovell-Smith and the strings commence with a poetical introduction before the full ensemble begins to sift through Lovell-Smith’s supple arrangement. At one point, Sinton showcases a slightly dissonant but graceful mannerism which alludes to his long-standing collaborations with forward-thinking musicians such as Nate Wooley and Mary Halvorson. Toren also is given space to supply some i piano soloing which contrasts intriguingly with the stings section. The quintet closes with the charming and tasteful “Song for May” (composed when Lovell-Smith was at Wesleyan). “Song for May” is a downy vehicle for Lovell-Smith’s flowing soprano sax, Hopkins refined bass soloing, and includes lithe rhythmic backing by Toren and Gentile. Lovell-Smith returns this year to New Zealand to pursue a Doctorate in Music Arts. Let’s hope her future involves further recordings, as it seems her compositional skills are continuing to bloom and show no faltering.

TrackList: The Pillow Book; Wonter Winderland; Yellow Red Blue; I Had a King; Familia; Swan Song; Moving Mountains; Song for May

—Doug Simpson

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