Gary Smulyan: Smul's Paradise (2012)
A baritone saxophonist leading an organ trio is certainly a rarity; the results of Gary Smulyan's Smul's Paradise is, in sixties hip, a "gas." This slang seems especially appropriate here because the CD pays tribute to an often-overlooked organist, Don Patterson, who came on the scene in that decade. Fronting a quartet behind his big bari, Smulyan contributes his tribute, "Blues for D.P.," in addition to including two tunes by Patterson in the eight-song set.
Smulyan has said that this format was a favorite from his youth, and that he has wanted to make a recording with an organ group for a long time. He got his professional start in the seventies with Woody Herman's New Thundering Herds, and currently plays with the celebrated Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. In addition to section work, he leads his own trio, which includes bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington.
Smulyan has been consistently ranked as the number one baritone saxophonist in Downbeat Magazine Readers and Critics polls and cites the influence of the late Pepper Adams. Here, the saxophonist's sound demonstrates a sonorous quality rarely heard on baritonemore like a tenorand contributes crisp, punchy solos, with his trio mates also making significant contributions.
Smulyan's pithy phrasing stands out in Patterson's up-tempo "Up in Betty's Room," layered over Mike LeDonne's inspired organ work on Hammond B3. Likewise appealing, the melodic Patterson/Sonny Stitt "Aires" features a beautiful bari opening, followed by a beguiling solo from guitarist Peter Bernstein, with LeDonne floating, this time, over the rhythm section.
Another highlight, Smulyan digs in on "Blues for D.P." after Bernstein's intro, leading to LeDonne, with all stops pulled out, bringing the tune to a rousing finish. Smulyan is front and center on his closing "Heavenly Hours," the saxophonist dexterously taking a lengthy run and improvising with abandon.
A logical choice in the midst of an organ trio, hopefully, Smul's Paradise will open more possibilities for the often-overlooked baritone sax as a lead instrument.
Track Listing: Sunny; Up In Betty's Room; Pistaccio; Smul's Paradise; Little Miss Half Steps; Aires; Blues For D.P.; Heavenly Hours.
Personnel: Gary Smulyan: baritone sax; Mike LeDonne: Hammond B-3 organ; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Kenny Washington: drums.