Stan Smith is a Columbus area jazz guitarist who like many fine jazz musicians has spent a good deal of his career disguised as a music professor (at Capital University). In contrast to some who get comfortable or simply too busy in the academic jazz world though, Mr. Smith has always maintained a steady diet of gigs and recording sessions to stay on top of his game.
Hence, the recording here, a gem of a guitar trio record that many will have the folly to ignore if they choose to believe that great jazz isn't coming out of Columbus, Ohio. While a major profile artist by the name of Pat Metheny cut a great loose guitar trio record a year ago, this is my choice for at least one great guitar trio record that should get wider press even as it may not have the power of Warner Brothers behind it .
Indeed, "No Discussion" is one of the best guitar records the reviewer has heard from an artist on a smaller label in some time.
To call it merely a "guitar record", while accurate in citing the lead voice here, does it an injustice on some level though, because this is clearly an "improvisors record" first and foremost. You must understand this record was cut basically, essentially- on the fly. The title "No Discussion" is not just a hip title for the record or Stan's personal mantra - it was literally how the session went down, with "No Discussion." The origins of the "No Discussion" recording session are quite worthy of discussion, and Stan Smith related to the reviewer personally how it all went down: "at the recording in lieu of the standard process of setting mic levels i just started improvising knowing that Dave and Peter would join in. as soon as the trio was into the improvisation I nodded to Joe to start recording which fortunately he did. there was no discussion about this process and it was obvious immediately that it happened to be "one of those days" when everything was just going to fall into place. After a couple improvisations we did actually play the tune we had come to record, but after each performance we all felt that there was a better take in us so we ended up with several versions. then we played a couple of more free improvisations... There was never any talking about the music we played that day. No discussion as to what might happen or what key or style....but we all felt very good about everything that was played that day..."
And fair enough this reviewer would say. The overall impression one gets in listening to this record is that the looseness that is gained with "no discussion" is not at the expense of playing in harmony and playing together, which is something "free" excursions can easily fall prey to for sure. No, this is obviously the work of some very mature musicians who know how to establish a free dialogue without compromising musicianship or some essential "tunefulness" of the music. The reviewer would venture to say this is a free record that straight-ahead fans can certainly deal with, and a free record that fans of "free jazz" proper should have no problem seeing the merits of.
That said, the program on No Discussion consists of 3 purely free improvisations, three takes over a chord progression "Standard Form" penned by Smith, and one take over a tune by the late bassist Lewis DuPriest, a colleague of Smith's from his California days.
The "Standard Form" progression is what it says, and the familiar changes are tastefully commented over with quotes from various standards amidst a broader array of interwoven lines between guitar and bass, egged on in turns by the drummer's own commentary. Whereas, the free improvisations are a good deal less obviously structured than this; there are allusions to familiar forms and melodies here and there, but mostly the playing takes shape as it goes along through an organic dialogue involving each player's distinctive musical vocabulary. These improvisations are futhermore a lesson in the true nature of jazz as being call-and-response; there is nothing said that goes without some kind of reply, be it direct or indirect, a reaction or an assimilation of what was just said. Finally, the DePriest tune is a nice change of pace, and a nice tune on top of it.
As regards the nature of the soloists here: Stan Smith, being influenced primarily by Mick Goodrick's conception of jazz guitar, favors a more open approach to guitar that makes use of space and a broader tonal palette too. Those expecting rapid bop-type lines with a percussive tone may look elsewhere; while Smith knows his way around changes his heart, at least in this format, is in a more atmospheric, space-respecting realm. His higher-reverb chordal gestures are not unlike what one hears through John Abercrombie, and in terms of his use of space, there are echoes of Metheny. But as Smith says, the main reference point is Mick Goodrick, a completely undersung guitar legend to be sure. Smith takes cues from his conception but no doubt has his own ideas in mind too.
Dave DeWitt, a fixture in Columbus rhythm sections, plays a very hearty bass and his improvisatory skill is essential here- he is sometimes the melodic voice, sometimes the counterpoint voice to Smith but no matter what his role, he is ACTIVE, and asserts his voice clearly into the fray. He and Smith have some fine conversations within the trio. And Retzlaff the drummer is no slouch either; he keeps the hi-hat constantly "stimulated" and does his best not to get in the way of either soloist, making tasteful commentary on the kit and keeping the rhythm fresh throughout. He furthermore demonstrates a dynamic range that is very essential in a format like this; it's too easy for the drummer to either play too loud or too soft- Retzlaff negotiates the balance.
This cd has already been making waves outside of Columbus apparently. A New York composer involved with the Downtown scene there- Chris Becker, has included a remix of one of the improvisations on his website (www.beckermusic.com). It's pretty hip, but it's also fair to say the original doesn't really, practically speaking- need any kind of remix.
It would be remiss not to mention also the excellent recorded quality of this cd. This cd is available through the CoJazz label, and may be purchased at: www.cojazz.com. It is listed under the sister label BRC on the site.