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The bassoon seems to be the homebody of the orchestral woodwind family. This double-reed dynamo rarely leaves the confines of the classical world, instead finding contentment in its comfort zone, playing classic works of yore. On the rare occasion that the instrument does wander outside of its safety net to converse in other musical environments, it often meets with mixed results and critical derision. While the skilled bassoon practitioners who are willing to take a chance in jazz deserve a lot of credit for trying, one has to wonder if trying is enough. That's a question that occasionally crops up on Daniel Smith's Bassoon Goes Latin Jazz.
Smith has already conquered the classical world, and this is his fourth crossover outing in jazz, following on the heels of Blue Bassoon (Summit, 2010). With each of his prior jazz albums, Smith has stuck to classic repertoire and the same goes for this date. Obligatory Brazilian inclusions from the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim
's "Watermelon Man") make up about half the program. In other places, Smith takes material with a natural funk-leaning feel, like "The Chicken," and adds a little spice to the mix.
When Smith catches fire and finds the right vehicle for his instrument's sound, the results are inspiring. He goes against the grain on "Black Orpheus," defying the odds and proving that the bassoon can be elegant, but the fun and funky "Watermelon Man" is even more impressive. Roswell Rudd
makes a guest appearance and proves to be a perfect match for Smith, in timbre and style. While these bright spots point to the potential of the bassoon in this type of setting, the album does have a few rough spots. Smith's phrases are rhythmically awkward at times ("Yardbird Suite"), some intonation issues pop up, and some songs require far greater horsepower than a bassoon can provide ("The Chicken"). This aside, Smith still deserves to bask in the glow of the more successful performances.
As with any Latin date, regardless of the leader's instrument of choice, a lot rests on the rhythm section, and Smith sees to it that he has players who can make this music sizzle. Drummer Vincent Ector and percussionist Neil Clarke
revel in a street party atmosphere ("So Danco Samba"), provide subtler support when the rhythmic intensity recedes ("Black Orpheus"), and do the Mambo in style ("Mambo From The Dance At The Gym"). Pianist Daniel Kelly