The Hughes Smith Quintet is an amalgamation of saxophonist James Hughes and trumpeter Jimmy Smith, not only in namesake, but also in compositional approach. Their latest album Motion, the third in a catalog featuring original compositions, focuses on the straight-ahead sound of the seventies, popular in the Detroit scene, blended with hard-hitting energy, deep grooves, vibrant colors, and textures of this period in jazz, with their own modern sensibilities. The group is rounded out with Phil Kelly, a mainstay Detroit pianist, who adds to the textural experience by incorporating the Fender Rhodes when the mood sets the tone of the tune. Bassist Takashi Iio and drummer Nate Winn hold down the deeply felt grooves and excel the tunes with interactive, and innovative playing.
Motion begins its propulsion with "The Runaround," Iio's warm bass evokes a funky bass line, the band layers in with a polished and unified sound that builds on the bop and post-bop era for their inspiration. The melody switches nicely between a funky feel and a driving swing feel. Hughes' and Smith's alto and trumpet blend perfectly and will bring back memories of the Blue Note era. Hughes takes his time during his solo, methodically building the intensity and activity of his phrases as the rhythm section urges him on. Kelly's Fender Rhodes sound is a nice touch and adds a hip modern color to the quintet orchestration. Smith's solo is driving and influenced in all the right places by the bop traditions. Iio's bass solo covers a wide range of the instrument and is highly musical and fits the feel aesthetically. This is a prodigious composition and fabulous opener to set the tone for the embodiment of the album. "Sidamo" features feel changes that elevate the tracks movement with nice mix of post-bop and hard-bop as the prevailing idiom, all played with verve by an outstanding group of musicians. The band is cogent on the same vocabulary and mutual respect is clear within the interaction. Hughes turns in quick-witted solo with energy and purpose. Kelly's piano solo over a quick walking swing feel brings a texture change. The composition has many sections and a strong ending, another fine musical statement by the band.
"Promenade with Molly" has an orchestrated color change that is effective, featuring a creative form of composition is creative. The melody is relaxed in its approach, but the band still plays with resoluteness to maintain the energy and flow. Hughes performs a relaxed saxophone solo with only Kelly accompanying him. Kelly's solos for a brief reprieve, before the rhythm section enters the scene, and the musical temperature rises. The melody statement is darting and witty and gives a nice variation to the overall flow of the album in its color and style.
Motion is a fitting title in the ever-growing discography of Hughes Smith Quintet, as certainly this ensemble is one on the move to greater musical heights with each new release.
The Runaround; Intersections; Waxwing; Sidamo; Elizabeth; Rue; Wanting More; Promenade with Molly; Gig Fries; Chips & Slaw.
James Hughes: saxophones (alto, soprano); Jimmy Smith: trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn; Phil Kelly: piano, Fender Rhodes; Takashi Iio: bass; Nate Winn: drums.
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