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Artist Profiles

Jonah Smith is Blowing Up the Spot

By Published: April 8, 2003
Through our sense of taste we are able to capture an essence and keep hold of it for a bit. We think about it; how it felt, the texture and sensations as our mind paints the picture. Be it good or bad, taste is a preserver of that essence. You may choose to relish in one, while washing the other away immediately. It all depends on the feel.

When a voice hits, it stirs the soul in much the same way. At first note we secure a piece and indulge ourselves, feeling for what we are hearing and what is being said. If it pleases us, we choose to savor the passion and brilliance of the song and its message. As in taste, the initial touch is left preserved, a lasting impression of words lingering after the sound of the voice is gone leaving you feeling the voice and all that it carries.

But all too often, there are those voices that don’t taste so good. And then Jonah Smith comes along and cooks up some gourmet soul stew for you. Straight real and intelligent in thier craftsmanship, Jonah Smith and his band are warming it up urban-soul style with more flavors than the Iron Chef. For the past two and a half years, the quintet has been seasoning things up in New York City and around the East Coast, as well as hits in clubs and festivals in Europe, and is continuing to gain critical acclaim for their music’s distinct colorations and virtuosity.

Blowing up the Spot
In a one hour slot

Draped in genuine lyricisim, Jonah Smith’s smokey and commanding delivery hits deep as he coats the music in the velvet of Fender Rhodes.

"As a songwriter, I try to keep things balanced: melody, harmony, lyrics, chordal movement. If I write a tune that's all over the place chordally, I'll often come back after that with a really simple tune that was just kicking around in my head. Hopefully, it all sounds like me."

Backed by the worldly talents of an ultra-dynamic rhythm section, the music is stretched beyond the limits that most self-contained in genre rarely see. The world-reknowned skills of drummer Mark Djordjevic and silky-sweet bass playering of Ben Rubin hold down the back. The linguistic guitar and pedal steel work of the David Soler layers beautiful accents into the music as tenor man Bob Reynolds blows warm and moving, often leading the band into the further reaches. Each ingredient is complimentary to the elegance of Jonah Smith’s music, who, like a true storyteller and scholar of song, invokes the personal emotions of experience truly speaking from the heart.

"We're just trying to provide something original to the scene. All of my players are great improvisers, but we try to build on what we accomplished the night before. We'll work out an arrangement for a tune that will be really tight, but once we play it like that for awhile, it inevitablely changes into something else, a different feel, mood, tempo, whatever, so we don't get tired of playing it."

On the band’s debut record, Industry Rule (2001), Jonah and his mates deliver an intelligent and expanding array of sonic enhancement often touching on the otherworlds of improvisational electronica to introduce you to a song. The band’s prelude to the real sweet R&B cut “Tone of Your Voice” illuminates the quintet’s capacity to delve into the technics of drum n bass. “Juan’s Cue” is a bit harder, with a darkened tone underneath a lead line harkening back the Crusaders. The record’s title track presents the in-the-pocket funk with that tight break found within the 1970s work of Grover Washington, Jr. Mainly though, the Blues is the dominant force. Tracks like “Billy and the Sandman” and “Open a Letter to an Old Lover” really talk the Blues in moments where Jonah’s literal and heartfelt songwriting truly shine. As a whole Industry Rule is an exceptional and fitting first release, perfectly highlighting group’s the many talents. Beginning in May, following the recording of their album with producer Jason Olaine (Scofield, Chris Potter, Kurt Rosenwinkle), the band will travel to their European home of Spain and then possibly other parts of Europe for a summer run before returning to the States to promote the record.

"Other than that, it's just about spreading the music. People can read all of the quotes they want about an artist, they can look at their picture, but what it really comes down to is does the music move you...We try to play just what the song calls for. We really try to leave the ego out of our music...We're just trying to provide something original to the scene.

"The fact that people can't really categorize our music is pleasing to me. To me, that means we're on the right path. Hopefully, eventually we'll have a sound that is just associated with us. You hear it on the radio and you know who it is immediately. No one could really categorize Frank Zappa or Tom Waits, they're just Amercan originals."

Jonah Smith and his band will be appearing at the Mercury Lounge in New York City on Saturday evening March 12th and will be gettin back on the road soon thereafter. Check for more news and details.


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