Perry Smith Quartet – Street Sense – Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records BJUR 039, 48.06 ***:
(Perry Smith – guitar; Dayna Stephens – sax; Sam Minaje – bass; Ross Pederson – drums)
Jazz artists lead uncertain and unpredictable lives. Trying to make a living as a jazz musician is no easy task and even with the release of an album, acknowledgement is difficult, even in the best of times. So if the Perry Smith Quartet hoped that the release of Street Sense will make a difference in their musical lives, disappointment is just around the corner.
Perry Smith has a solid educational background with a Bachelor of Music from University of Southern California and a Masters in Music from New York University. So his guitar skills are not in question. However the choices that a musician makes to get his music across to widest audience possible are often counter-intuitive. All of the tunes in this set are composed by Perry Smith, not an uncommon feature of such independent releases, as it keeps down the costs associated with the payment of third-party composer royalties. This is often a false economy unless the composer’s efforts scream ‘play me’ which, regrettably, in this instance is not the situation.
Starting off with “Mr. R.A. The Warrior” the tune opens with a repetitive refrain upon which the band takes turns building solo space but without any discernible end other than to get back to the refrain. The title track “Street Sense” follows along in the same vein as the opener in a diffident repetitive melody with a tempo that doesn’t test the band. Saxophonist Dayna Stephens offers a longish solo with some unusual phrasing and Smith’s guitar work is discordantly complex. “The Searcher” is a languorous piece with saxophonist Stephens leading the way, then Smith uses a lot of reverb on his guitar variations with uncertain results.
Once a theme, concept, and execution have been established for a project, there is little likelihood that change can be expected. And so with the remainder of the compositions on this album. Smith appears to be committed to finding his own compositional touchstones through the use of repetitive phrases, open space, and unstructured melody. Whatever the group tackles be it “ Please Repeat After Me”,” Talking Points” or “Jungle Phrases” the results are, for all intents and purposes, the same. In this case, a little goes a long way.
TrackList: Mr. R.A. The Warrior; Street Sense; The Searcher; Please Repeat After Me; Talking Points; Open Spaces; Happy Jungle