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An increasingly popular musician in Chicago, saxophonist Mike Frost has put together a very tight, well-oiled machine with the Mike Frost Project. On Nothing Smooth About It, the sextet pays tribute to classic tunes from the jazz canon without sounding retro. "Oleo" allows the band members to display their solo talents in a round robin fashion as they partake in a hard but gentle swinging charge through the Sonny Rollins gem. As on all the tracks, the generous bandleader allows his mates plenty of solo space. "Night in Tunisia," a tune that has perhaps been played too often, is performed in a refreshing manner by the band with some funky B-3 organ and percussion work.
It is on ballads that musicians generally prove their mettle. On "You Don't Know What Love Is," Frost takes his time as he perfectly lingers over the melody displaying his keen familiarity with the song's theme. Guitarist Bill Boris takes over with a near-hushed solo that is a perfect fit for Frost's flawlessly toned take on the quiet burner. The members of the Mike Frost Project also knows that listening to each other is a major part of being a good jazz band. And with "Round Midnight," they never get in each other's way, paying respect to the song's radiant melody while adding their personal touch to it. Steve Frost blows polished lines over Miles Davis' "Milestones."
The Mike Frost Project records on the Chicago-based Blujazz, an artist-run independent label that does an end-run around the majors by giving the musician ownership of his/her product. With Nothing Smooth About It, Mike Frost has remarked that the band's goal was to "reproduce the experience of our live performance to this recording." I haven't heard the band live, but if they sound as good as they do on this album, they well deserve a national platform. A hip, swinging outfit. Thankfully, there ain't nothing smooth about the Mike Frost Project.