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With all of the controversy surrounding jazz in 2011, I believe everyone is looking towards a fresh start in 2012 full of good music and hopefully some new bonds being formed between musicians (maybe..?). We often hear complaints about the lack of ‘soul’ or ‘feeling’ in today’s jazz, but baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan’s newest release proves, amongst other releases, that this simply isn’t the case. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) Smulyan’s group is excavating the possibilities of an expanded organ trio group which of course includes Smulyan’s sax and the guitar expertise of Peter Bernstein. This is a feel good record, and it has everything from groovy shuffle beats to smoky organ riffs in the style of classic Jimmy Smith recordings. Mike LeDonne’s playing reminds one of Larry Goldings at times, but it’s clear that LeDonne’s style relates closer to classic jazz recordings while Goldings sometimes ventures into uncharted Impressionistic territory (check out Goldings’ work with Trio Beyond. His intro on ‘I Fall in Love too Easily sounds like a Debussy composition). Peter Bernstein is the perfect fit for this group. His tone is reminiscent of Grant Green, but his playing is more refined harmonically. Bernstein’s ability to maintain just the right amount of grit in his playing is interesting and may leave some guessing as to just what generation he belongs to. The vast majority of compositions on this record are original. Smulyan isn’t an overly adventurous composer, however, it is refreshing to hear some new tunes within a traditional format. I for one enjoy hearing some standard sounding material on a non-standards record. It’s recordings like this that demonstrate that anyone who thinks modern jazz is abandoning tradition just isn’t digging deep enough. This record will be released in early 2012, so look for it online in a couple of weeks.
Gary Smulyan - “Smull’s Paradise (Capri Records Ltd 2012)
Gary Smulyan (Bari Sax), Peter Bernstein (Guitar), Mike LeDonne (Hammond B3), Kenny Washington (Drums)