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The Johnny Smith Quintet: Moonlight In Vermont

Chris May By

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The Johnny Smith Quintet: Moonlight In Vermont This may be the greatest "forgotten" jazz album of its time.

"Moonlight In Vermont" was originally released as the B side of a single in '52. Its lush, gorgeous, laid back groove—caressed into life by Smith and Stan Getz—made it an immediate radio hit and it was voted Jazz Record Of The Year by Downbeat.

Over subsequent decades, "Moonlight In Vermont" and the eponymous album to which it gave birth (originally two 10" issues titled Jazz At NBC ) have gradually faded from view: Smith, a studio musician at NBC and regular performer at Birdland for much of the Fifties, more or less retired from performance in the early Sixties and his work has since been out of catalogue more often than it has been in.

An uncannily symmetrical 52 years after its first release, Moonlight In Vermont must now be a strong contender for Jazz Reissue Of The Year. The sixteen tracks, recorded between March '52 and August '53, include the original eight with Getz and a further eight with Getz replaced by either Zoot Sims or Paul Quinchette. The music is meticulously arranged, the harmonic development rich and sophisticated, and the performances, particularly those of Smith, Getz and the "first choice" rhythm section of Gold, Safranski and Lamond, technically awesome; the up-tempo unison passages by Smith and Getz especially are jawdroppingly masterful.

Yet Smith never uses technique for its own sake. Throughout, his rapid fire single note runs (every bit as jetspeed as Tal Farlow's, but more sparingly used) and innovative chordal theme statements and solos (truly harmolodic inventions) are just—there's no other word—heavenly. Like the title track, much of the album is lush, gorgeous and laid back, but there is plenty of fire and energy here too.

Still, gloriously and evocatively, in the original mono, the album has been lovingly remastered in 24-bit by Malcolm Addey. If you like Django, Charlie Christian and/or Wes Montgomery, do yourself an immense favour and check it out.

Kinda Interesting Factoid : Somewhat unexpectedly, Johnny Smith is the composer of "Walk Don't Run," that massive, twanging, primeval rock 'n' roll hit for the Ventures in '60. The royalties allowed Smith to relocate from NYC to bucolic Colorado. His lifestyle gain perhaps, but our listening loss for sure.

Track Listing: Where Or When; Tabu; Moonlight In Vermont; Jaguar; Stars Fell On Alabama; Tenderly; (I Don't Stand A) Ghost Of A Chance; Vilia; Cavu; I'll Be Around; Yesterdays; Cherokee; Sometimes I'm Happy; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Jaguar (alternate version); My Funny Valentine.

Personnel: Johnny Smith, guitar; Stan Getz or Zoot Sims or Paul Quinchette, tenor sax; Sanford Gold, piano; Eddie Safranski or Bob Carter or Arnold Fiskin, bass; Don Lamond or Morey Feld, drums.

Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Roulette Jazz | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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