Joe Smith's Melodic Workshop begins with a joyful piano-bass-drum fanfare that leads to a long-lined theme, motored by an almost martial drumbeat. "Shroo" is grand and generous in its scope. Jazz to be sure, but not the traditional kind. Free of more conventional metric considerations, the musicians make the most of the occasion to improvise thematically.
In contrast, "Rebel" has a more regular rhythm and, with closely voiced horns in the exposition spelling out its harmonies, a more easily recognized improvisatory roadmap. Gorka Benitez's flute and Bill McHenry's tenor spark the mood.
The Fender Rhodes piano lends a darkly inviting sheen to "Sasa Sings" that works well with the horns' opening drone-like notes. Chris Lightcap's undulating electric bass lines propel the saxophonists' sometimes jagged, sometimes flowing lines. Smith's energetic drumming leads back to the two tenors working in unison, sans accompaniment. "Gulp" opens with the feel of a noir film theme but soon moves into a free association that, while musically ingenious, never seems to cohere, at least emotionally.
Then, there is "Sassy," a fun, tuneful takeoff on soul-laced rock. This probably will not be heard in dance clubs, but a dance could be worked out to fit its jaunty, off-centered rhythms. "Y (No Tengo Dinero)" and "Long" offer some of the most focused playing on the session. Their sensuous melodies and settings bring out impassioned solos from all the players.
Beautifully voiced and recorded vocals by Coda are added on "Sad," another pensive theme, and a gorgeous one too. The only problem is that the programming of these three melodies, one after the other, ends the CD with a long, rather somber mood.
Touches of Carla Bley and even Jane Ira Bloom peek out from time to time. But Joe Smith has crafted a recording that is original. While it's probably not for the tastes of die-hard purists, others may want to take a listen.
Shroo; Rebel; Sasa Sings; Gulp; Sassy; Y (No Tengo Dinero); Long; Sad
Bill McHenry, tenor sax; Gorka Benitez, tenor sax, flute; Guillermo Klein, piano, Fender Rhodes; Chris Lightcap, electric bass; Jorge Rossy, drums, Fender Rhodes; Joe Smith, drums; Coda, vocals (8)
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