Perseverance, Florida-bred saxophonist Melvin Smith's seventh album as leader of his own group, is a hard-blowing session on which he shows (again) that he is one of the leading bop-based reed masters on today's scene. On soprano or tenor, Smith displays a clarity of purpose and storehouse of astute phrases that serve him well at any pace and in any context.
Besides alternating horns (tenor on seven numbers, soprano on four), Smith adds texture and variety to the session by using pianist Jeb Patton on six tracks, organist Greg Lewis on the others. Smith, Lewis and drummer Jeremy Warren comprise a trio on those selections, while bassist Corcoran Holt makes it a quartet the rest of the way.
According to the album jacket, all songs were "composed and/or arranged" by Smith. Arranged, yes; but Smith wrote only three ("Letter to the Ancestors," "Gettin' It" and "Perseverance"). Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers inscribed other themes to accompany three by Robert Watson and the traditional anthem, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child."
It would be hard to envision a more cordial opening number than Heath's refreshing "Sound for Sore Ears" (Smith on soprano, splendid solos by Patton and Warren), which precedes the first of Watson's compositions, the sunlit "Karita," on which Smith moves to tenor, remaining there for a Latinized version of "Motherless Child." Shorter's charming "One by One" is a highlight, as is Smith's funky "Gettin' It" (soprano on the first, tenor on the second).
Rivers wrote the free and easy "Beatrice" (trio, Smith on soprano), which leads to "Perseverance," the only number on which Smith lets his tenor stray from melodic to strident, but only briefly. The tenor/organ trio returns for the lively and enchanting "Golden" before the session ends with Watson's colorful "Beatitudes" (quartet, Smith on tenor). While everyone plays well, Perseverance is first and foremost a showcase for Smith, and he never fails to wrap it in a mantle of clarity and charm.
Sound for Sore Ears; Karita; Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; A Letter to the
Ancestors; Beatitudes-Interlude; One by One; Gettin’ It; Beatrice; Perseverance; Golden;
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