Gary Smulyan: Hidden Treasures (2006)
Hidden Treasures smokes from the very first cut. Joined here by bassist Christian McBride and drummer Billy Drummond, Gary Smulyan makes a major statement with every new release. He eschewed smaltz for hard swing on Gary Smulyan with Strings. On Blues Suite he played fiery baritone sax with a brass section. He led a straight-ahead, take-no-prisoners quintet on The Real Deal.
On Hidden Treasures his pared-down ensemble produces such a plethora of rhythmic and harmonic colors that a piano isn't missed. The gritty might of Smulyan's blowing is like a blast of coffee chased by McBride's brown sugar arco and pizzicato flights and Drummond's smooth chocolate milk accompaniment, stirring a fine blend on sticks and brushes throughout.
Their groove on Quincy Jones' "Wail Bait" strolls the tempo a notch lower than the high-velocity opener. McBride shares the melody line with Smulyan on "Bud's Idea" with striking ease. "A Woman Always Understands" is a brief romantic reverie; Phil Woods' "House of Chan" is a showcase yet again for McBride's mastery, finding Smulyan spurred by breaks and Drummond's bebop bombs.
On Donald Byrd's "Omicron," the three players trade inspired eights, fours and twos. The bossa "A Rose for Wray" by Harold Vick has Smulyan in the mood with a sly embedded quote of "I Love You." Judicious use of space is the place on Jim McNeely's unorthodox "Off the Cuff." Tadd Dameron's "Jahbero," based on the "All the Things You Are" changes, takes the trio right back into the pocket.
John Coltrane's "Fifth House" rounds out a select set of tunes that are hidden treasures by virtue of their relative obscurity. But they've found a home on this top-flight recording by Smulyan. You may find that each song has an air of familiarity, since each is actually based on a better-known composition.
Track Listing: Stretch in F; Wail Bait; Bud's Idea; A Woman Always Understands; House of Chan; Omicron; A Rose for Wray; Off the Cuff; Jahbero; Fifth House.
Personnel: Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone; Christian McBride: bass; Billy Drummond: drums.