Those familiar with the New Orleans radio and television community (WWOZ-FM and WSJZ-FM and the "New Orleans Live" show) have undoubtedly heard Henri Smith's deep, resonant voice and his suave smooth delivery first as a disc jockey and then as a TV host. Henri has also parlayed his high Crescent City profile into roles in many TV commercials and more recently parts in major Hollywood movies including: Double Jeopardy , Primary Colors and A Lesson Before Dying.
Through the years, Smith has performed in nightclubs, jazz joints, bars, concert halls and at festivals all over the world. His music is a conglomeration of New Orleans Jazz, funky syncopated Blues, R&B, Zydeco. Latin, Country and Swing, all punctuated by his wonderful delivery. On his first CD, Smith brings in the big guns. The star-studded roster of players on New Orleans Friends and Flavors (if there ever was an appropriate name for a CD – this is it!) reads like a Who's Who of the New Orleans music scene. Smith has enlisted the talents of multi-faceted percussionist Bill Summers, trumpeter extraordinaire Kermit Ruffins, Donald Harrison on sax as well as arrangements, Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen on (what else) tuba, Jason Marsalis of Los Hombres Calientes and the world-famous Marsalis clan on vibes, Thadeus Richard (who has provided his talents to recordings by Paul McCartney and Dave Bartholomew) on piano, Nat Simpkins (as producer/arranger/saxophonist) and many others on this fine debut CD.
The CD contains eight tracks. Each one is a gem and many are surprises. The album opens with the Nawlins fave, the lively "Big Chief," given a Cajun/Caribbean flavor. This is accomplished by combining Summers' congas and Smith's cajun-like vocal affectation. The second track, the Hoagy Carmichael standard "New Orleans," is given a bluesy treatment. Burt Bacharach and Hal David are represented with "Walk On By," which is given a mid-tempo arrangement. Jason Marsalis makes his presence known on "That Old Black Magic." Another jazz-infected lounge song is Cannonball Adderley's "Work Song" (featuring solos by both Harrison and Simpkins). Next up is a cover of Buck Owens' classic country/western favorite "Cryin' Time." Smith and company have rearranged into a slower even more serious and somber song. The Latin-flavored (what else?), "Spanish Rice And Beans" and the bass-backed "Them There Eyes" round out this remarkable, but all-too-short debut recording.
From the very beginning it is obvious that this isn't the usual/average vocal jazz album. Smith has created a wonderful amalgamation of the styles, genres and cultures that comprise both modern jazz and that extremely hard-to-pin-down beat known as New Orleans jazz. No, this ain't Dixieland and it certainly isn't traditional. But it's absolutely worth listening to and cherishing.
1. Big Chief (King) - 6:23
2. New Orleans (Carmichael) - 5:48
3. Walk on By (Bacharach/David) - 4:35
4. That Old Black Magic (Arlen/Mercer) - 5:30
5. Work Song (Adderley) - 4:36
6. Cryin' Time (Owens) - 5:01
7. Spanish Rice and Beans (Simpkins) - 5:45
8. Them There Eyes (Pinkard/Tauber/Tracey) - 3:24
Henri Smith - Vocals
Cecil Brooks III - Arranger, Drums, Producer
Bill Summers - Conga
Kermit Ruffins - Trumpet, Vocals
Roland Guerin - Bass
Donald Harrison - Arranger, Sax (Alto)
Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen - Tuba
Jason Marsalis - Vibraphone
Kevin Morris - Bass
Steve Reynolds - Engineer
Thadeus Richard - Piano
Wendell Brunious - Flugelhorn
Nat Simpkins - Arranger, Sax (Tenor), Producer
Jerry Anderson - Drums
Herman Leonard - Photography