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As with his fellow neo-bopper, tenorist Eric Alexander, New Orleans-bred alto man Ian Hendrickson-Smith isn't exactly breaking acres of new ground stylistically. But like Alexander, he remains an unquestionable master of the genre; at a mere 31 years of age, Hendrickson-Smith, who doubles on flute, is the possessor of a world-weary, tender tone many players his senior would kill for (the soft caress of Art Pepper comes to mind.)
For the most part, Still Smokin', Hendrickson-Smith's second release as a leader (after 2003's Up in Smoke!, also cut live at New York club Smoke), is superb, swinging stuff, played and recorded equally well. And here he's backed by an absolute battleship of a band, comprised of top New Yorkers like guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist David Hazeltine, drummer Joe Strasser, bassist Peter Washington, and trumpeter Ryan Kisor.
Blessed with such an endearing tone, it's no surprise that Hendrickson-Smith typically fares better on ballads than on up-tempo pieces, and the set is stocked accordingly with intimate standards: "I Wish You Love," "Memories of You," "I Can't Get Started." And while funk fests like the original "Jacob's Crib" (with a spiky, Dizzed-out solo by Kisor) and Kenny Dorham's "San Francisco Beat" do give Strasser room to show off his fine New Orleans shuffling, they work best as interludes to the program's exceptional balladry rather than as stand-alone numbers.
Hendrickson-Smith's roots certainly run deep, and he's fond of referencing the immortals. On the Sonny Rollins (think "St. Thomas") -inspired version of "Smile," he chucks in a few bytes of Miles' "Bye Bye Blackbird," while the disc's standout tune, a neck-twisting, fast-bop-meets-slow-n'-moody arrangement of "Love For Sale," namechecks "Hot House."
Speaking of Bird, the title of the remaining Hendrickson-Smith original here, "Sparrow's Flight," may lead one to expect further Charlie Parker homage turns out it's more of a Trane tribute, with Hazeltine's crystalline, McCoy Tynerish vamps creating a deep canvas for Bernstein's comping and some ace solos by the leader and Kisor.
Besides the obvious allusion to Hendrickson-Smith's venue of choice, there are surely enough heated moments to justify the title of Still Smokin'. But for this warm and cozy date, we lean more toward the cool image of scattered blue wisps, holding court just above our martini glasses. Nice.
Track Listing: 1- I Wish You Love (Beach/Trenet) / 2- Love For Sale (Porter) / 3- Memories of You (Blake/Razaff) / 4- Jacob's Crib (Hendrickson-Smith) / 5- Sparrow's Flight (Hendrickson-Smith) / 6- Ian's Bossa (Hazeltine) / 7- I Can't Get Started (Duke/Gershwin) / 8- Smile (Chaplin) / 9- San Francisco Beat (Dorham)
Personnel: Ian Hendrickson-Smith: alto saxophone, flute; Ryan Kisor: trumpet; David Hazeltine: piano; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Peter Washington: bass; Joe Strasser: drums
The vocalist/guitarist of New York City blues-punk noisemakers The Chrome Cranks, Peter Aaron possesses an unceasing, obsessive thirst for musical knowledge. He now lives happily in upstate New York with his cats, Penelope and Kizzy.