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Ian Hendrickson-Smith: Still Smokin'

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The most impressive thing is that Hendrickson-Smith isn't trying to blow anyone away or distance himself from the listener; rather, it's clear he wants everyone to enjoy the music.
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Ian Hendrickson-Smith
Still Smokin'
Sharp Nine Records
2004

Ian Hendrickson-Smith's second live recording for Sharp Nine Records is an excellent showcase for his burgeoning talents as a bandleader and soloist. The thirty-one year old alto saxophonist (who doubles on flute on one track) is proficient at programming a set, arranges material in novel ways, gets the most out of an excellent band, and evinces an approach to the instrument that sounds both fresh and tradition-bound. The music is loosely situated on the soulful side of bebop; soloists express themselves without getting self-indulgent; and none of the nine tracks overstays its welcome.

Knowing that the easygoing medium-tempo groove of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Strasser on "I Wish You Love" isn't something to be messed with, Hendrickson-Smith wisely elects to make it an integral part of his solo. Nothing he plays detracts from the good feeling their pulse generates. His phrasing is speech-like, filled with pregnant pauses, brief telling digressions, all framed by subtle changes in dynamics and emphasis. Sometimes an individual phrase descends into silence; or, he'll allow an idea to sink in by letting the rhythm section carry things for a few beats. In other instances a phrase poses a question that's answered by the following one. Rapid-fire bop lines are brief and to the point, always yielding to simpler declarations. The most impressive thing is that Hendrickson-Smith isn't trying to blow anyone away or distance himself from the listener; rather, it's clear he wants everyone to enjoy the music.

On the same track pianist David Hazeltine displays a penchant for combining seemingly disparate elements into a coherent whole. His playing is clearly in the lineage of the masters of mainstream jazz piano, and within these parameters he shows a great deal of authority and individuality. Repeatedly during the course of his solo, relaxed, soulful passages that cleave to the bass and drums suddenly morph into energetic, precisely executed 16th note runs of varying lengths. During one particularly memorable sequence, he truncates a tidy phrase by going on a tear over Washington and Strasser for several bars, pauses for a few beats, then drops a few chords at a subdued volume, drawing attention to his partners and bringing the music back to a smoother course.

The rhythm section and Hendrickson-Smith continue to connect for some very effective up-tempo playing during the alto saxophonist's solo on "Love For Sale." Everything the piano, bass, and drums do is purposeful and drives the music forward. There's no waste and no digressions. Washington's walking pulse is sure and propulsive. Strasser's ride cymbal matches the bassist on virtually every beat; moreover, the drummer's accents and short fills provide constant stimulation. Hazeltine's chording is equally important to the band's drive. He's as persistent as possible without becoming obtrusive; and at times his darting chords has an impact not unlike Strasser's snare drum comping. Though the alto saxophonist's solo shouldn't be isolated from what's going on around him, nonetheless it's a brilliant piece of work. The language of bebop reigns supreme, and there's a joyous, bursting-with-life quality that only the finest performances in the genre capture. Furthermore, despite the swiftness of the tempo, Hendrickson-Smith is in complete control, consistently taking ideas from the others on the fly, and never showing any signs of strain.

Hazeltine's 2-chorus solo on "Love For Sale" is an exceptional, sustained burst of creative energy. There's both a steely discipline and a near-obsessive quality in the way he keeps riveting single note lines going almost without pause. Raising his intensity level to meet Hazeltine, Washington's walking becomes even more forceful than before. Aside from steady time and a complement of terse accents, Strasser adds some things that manage to stand out, even as they support the pianist's magnificent barrage. One example is a simple, melodic sounding figure made with consecutive strokes to both tom-toms. Another is a repetitive, riff-like pattern consisting of two hits to the snare and one bass drum thump.

Not unlike the tunes from the American Popular Songbook that constitute most of the record's material, Hendrickson-Smith's original composition in ¾ time, "Sparrow's Flight," boasts a striking melody. The piece gradually unfolds, and then builds to a robust climax before a dreamy concluding sequence nearly brings things to a standstill. All four soloists (Hendrickson-Smith, trumpeter Ryan Kisor, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and Hazeltine) find the varied terrain to their liking. Hendrickson-Smith, in particular, hangs concise melodic lines atop the composition's contours, treading carefully amidst Hazeltine's jutting chords, and painstakingly working his way up to keening shouts that reek of the blues.

Track listing
1. I Wish You Love; 2. Love For Sale; 3. Memories of You; 4. Jacob's Crib; 5. Sparrow's Flight; 6. Ian's Bossa; 7. I Can't Get Started; 8. Smile; 9. San Francisco Beat.

Personnel
Ian Hendrickson-Smith—alto saxophone and flute (7); Ryan Kisor—trumpet (2,4,5,9); Peter Bernstein—guitar (5,7,9); David Hazeltine—piano; Peter Washington—bass; Joe Strasser—drums.

Track Listing: 1. I Wish You Love; 2. Love For Sale; 3. Memories of You; 4. Jacob's Crib; 5. Sparrow's Flight; 6. Ian's Bossa; 7. I Can't Get Started; 8. Smile; 9. San Francisco Beat.

Personnel: Ian Hendrickson-Smith--alto saxophone and flute (7); Ryan Kisor--trumpet (2,4,5,9); Peter Bernstein--guitar (5,7,9); David Hazeltine--piano; Peter Washington--bass; Joe Strasser--drums.

Record Label: Sharp Nine Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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