Daniel Smith: Blue Bassoon

Dan Bilawsky By

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When many people hear discussions about the bassoon, they are far more likely to think of "Peter And The Wolf" than Charlie Parker and Wayne Shorter tunes. While jazz is open to any-and-all-comers in every instrument family, the technical demands of the bassoon—an unwieldy double reed instrument that rarely leaves the confines of classical music—and its unique voice have always made it an unlikely candidate. Fortunately, unlikely and undoable are two different things and Daniel Smith aims to show this to anybody who will listen.

Smith --- an excellent bassoonist who successfully navigates both classical and jazz waters—demonstrates his stellar technique and tasty ideas throughout the baker's dozen of blues-leaning tunes on Blue Bassoon. While it might take a little while to acclimate to the sound of this instrument in these settings, patience is greatly rewarded. A groovy bass riff introduces Horace Silver's "The Jody Grind" and the rest of the musicians quickly fall in line. As Smith lays down some hip lines, pianist Martin Bejerano—best known for his outstanding work with Roy Haynes— is right there beneath him to fill in the gaps. Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" features a fantastic bass solo from Edward Perez, and drummer Ludwig Afonso swings and creates subtly shifting patterns.

The large majority of this album is chock full of first-class performances but the nature of the bassoon does lead to a few rough spots. While the rhythm section provides some snappy swing on "Scotch and Water," the bassoon solo can't match their fluid, rhythmic grace. In addition, the instrument seems to be an ill fit —never really settling into the aural fabric of the song---with Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's "Sack Of Woe." Getting past any small bumps in the road, the rest of the recording proves to be a pleasure ride.

Guitarist Larry Campbell joins the quartet on the two straight blues songs, B.B. King's "My Baby's Gone" and Robert Johnson's "From Four Till Late." This material is simply priceless. Both tunes benefit from Afonso's Mississippi-meets-New Orleans drumming, with the latter locale providing greater groove impact on "From Four Till Late." Smith's solo here is something to marvel at and both of Campbell's appearances create fireworks. The music of Charles Mingus has already benefited from bassoon work, what with virtuoso bassoonist Michael Rabinowitz contributing his dazzling skills to the Mingus Orchestra, but Smith furthers the Mingus-bassoon connection here with this fun take on "Nostalgia In Times Square." John Coltrane's "Equinox" proves to be another highlight, with Perez and Bejerano providing an ominous riff and a spiritual swing vibe casting a shadow over the entire song. Bejerano's solo perfectly adds to the blues mystique of the music and Smith delivers another stunning solo. All in all, Blue Bassoon provides an epiphany surrounding musical possibilities and the art of integrating the bassoon into the jazz mainstream.

Track Listing: The Jody Grind; Billie's Bounce; Things Ain't What They Used To Be; Scotch And Water; My Baby's Gone; Sack Of Woe; Nostalgia In Times Square; Equinox; The Double Up; From Four Till Late; Break Out The Blues; Footprints; Solid.

Personnel: Daniel Smith: bassoon; Martin Bejerano: piano; Edward Perez: bass; Ludwig Afonso: drums; Larry Campbell: guitar (5, 10).

Title: Blue Bassoon | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Summit Records


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