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Nick Smart's Black Eyed Dog: Remembering Nick Drake

Chris May By

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Back in the day, during his tragically short life ('48-'74), British songwriter Nick Drake couldn't get arrested. The country's folk-rock movement, of which he was perceived to be a part, was booming, and Drake had the support of its two most influential movers and shakers: Chris Blackwell, owner of Island Records, and Joe Boyd, producer of Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, John Martyn, and just about everybody else who counted. But Drake and his music were too fragile and too deeply poetic for the hustle or the times, and he died, either by suicide or accidental overdose, an underappreciated success d'estime.

But songs as real and remarkable as the ones Drake wrote never die; they just keep resonating quietly, biding their time, waiting for the moment. Over the last few years, the jazz world has begun to rediscover them. Charlie Hunter's inclusion of "Day Is Done" (sung by Norah Jones) on his '01 album Analog Playground lit a small fuse, and Brad Mehldau's current Day Is Done album digs deeper into that same sublime song.

And now, from strictly out of the left field, the relatively unknown British trumpeter Nick Smart has come up with Remembering Nick Drake. It's the dog's veritable cojones, a small masterpiece which captures perfectly the glowing autumnal beauty of Drake's music and recreates it in jazz settings. The album deserves to be the making of Smart, who has yet to enjoy much personal recognition, despite some A-list live and on record session credits—including the Stan Sulzmann Big Band, Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Spiritualized and, a cheeser to end all cheesers this one, the Bert Kaempfort Orchestra.

Most of Smart's arrangements are instrumental—distinguished by a very fine band of soloists and ensemble players—with vocals included only sparingly. Christine Tobin contributes strong and characterful readings of "River Man" and "Black Eyed Dog," and Smart's co-producer Nick Mailing adds his voice on occasion. A string quartet tops and tails "Way To Blue," and extra brass is added on "Saturday Sun."

We'll never know, but I think Drake would have loved this album. The essential quality of his music—its delicate and somehow very English lyricism—is preserved and even enhanced, and Smart is respectful without being slavishly literal. It's a beautiful, beautiful piece of work and one which should give almost as much pleasure to people who are unfamiliar with Drake's songs as it will undoubtedly give to the cognoscenti.

Note: for a different take on Nick Drake's music, also check out this compilation.

Visit Nick Smart on the web.


Track Listing: Know/From The Morning; Three Hours; River Man; Way To Blue; Hazey Jane 11; Black Eyed Dog; Poor Boy; Horn/Saturday Sun.

Personnel: Nick Smart: trumpet, flugelhorn; Martin Hathaway: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Stan Sulzmann: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; John Parricelli: guitar; Dave Whitford: double bass; Paul Clarvis: drums; Dave Hassell: percussion; Christine Tobin: vocals (3,6); Simon Colam: piano (3); Ray Warleigh: alto saxophone (7); Nick Mailing: vocals.

Title: Remembering Nick Drake | Year Released: 2005

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