Neal Smith: Some of My Favorite Songs Are... (2005)
Debut recordings can give a deceptively strong impression of a leader, since his or her best hour of material is showcased. Many an artist can't match that initial effort and fall prey to the dreaded sophomore jinx. Drummer Neal Smith has confounded that scenario by releasing his second recording along with his firstand when they are taken together, one is left stunned by a multifaceted drummer who is at home in a variety of milieus. While Swingin' is Believin' was a horn fest of bop and swing, Some of My Favorite Songs Are... has Smith joining bassist Peter Washington and pianist Rick Germanson for deep in-the-pocket interpretations of the leader's best loved tunes.
Although there is a soulful bluesy feel running through these interpretations, Smith's hard bop leanings are evident in his choice of music. Songs that are better known for versions from larger horn based groups are recast here for a more intimate look. Such is the case on the trio's delightfully melodic presentation of the Tom McIntosh-composed Dizzy Gillespie standard "The Cup Bearers and the tight, straight-ahead version of tenor man Joe Henderson's "A Shade of Jade. On four cuts, the crystal clear guitar stylings of Mark Whitfield expand the trio to a quartet for some of the program's more muscular material.
The opening "Holy Land refries a Cedar Walton tune into a cooker as Whitfield turns up the gas with brilliant guitar work; and Herbie Hancock's "Driftin' has everyone playin' the blues. Trumpeter Kenny Dorham's "Blues for Jackie finds Smith and Washington setting the pace for an up-tempo homage to altoist Jackie McLean, fueling some impressive guitar runs; Germanson and Whitfield's interplay recall Buddy and Wes on a deliciously juicy take on the younger Montgomery's "Bock to Bock. With these two solid first efforts, Smith has left no doubt that he is a drummer and leader of the first order.
Track Listing: Holy Land; The Cup Bearers; A Shade Of Jade; Driftin'; Jill's Song; Blues For Jackie; Hindsight; Search For Peace; Bock To Bock; Swingin' Blues.
Personnel: Neal Smith: drums; Mark Whitfield: guitar; Richard Germanson: piano; Peter Washington: bass.