It is rare that a jazz album comes with laugh out loud moments but bassoonist Daniel Smith's Smokin' Hot Bassoon Blues is full of them. Unfortunately these do not appear to be intentional humorous attempts merely risibly poor performances.
This is a shame as Smith is both an accomplished musician and a jazz connoisseur with a commendable taste. His choice of material of classic blues compositions by such luminaries as bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson is evidence of the latter. Alas, dissonant screeches and poor organization mar the interpretations of these gems.
The band that supports him features immensely talented players like organist Greg Lewis and guitarist Ron Jackson but their skills and talents are lost in the after effect of Smith's jarring tones and lack of leadership. On pianist/bandleader Duke Ellington "C Jam Blues" for instance Lewis opens with soulful Hammond B 3 licks and Jackson closes with a safe but energetic simmering strings. Sandwiched between them Smith's turn in the spotlight with its rasping groan compromises the enjoyment of those brief glimpses of artistry.
Perhaps one of the tunes that gets the worst treatment is "Better Get Hit In Your Soul." The Mingus sublime standard of wailing rage gets transformed into a croaking whimper. Bassist Michael O'Brien's reverberating strings open it on an intriguing note but then the theme that Smith's unharmonious reeds and violinist Efrat Shapira's fluffy sweet tone play in incongruous unison sounds as out of place as Smith's, thankfully short, improvisation.
The two by pianist/singer Ray Charles "What'D I Say" and "Hallelujah I Love Her So" feature blues vocalist Frank Senior. Senior is no Charles and he does a passable job interpreting the lyrics without any of Charles' passion and wit. To be fair Smith's bassoon solo that follows is so gratingly discordant and the overall instrumental delivery so lack luster that even Charles himself could not have salvaged those tunes.
Perhaps, as the liner notes indicate, this is an innovative recording but one that is not appreciated by critics. It is neither the first nor the last time in history that reviewers have been wrong. After all, as the French say, la critique est aisée mais l'art est difficile. Maybe it is supposed to be an irreverently whimsical homage to these musical giants or, it is merely Smith's Ed Wood-ian attempt to create the jazz equivalent of "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
Night Train; Hummin’; Better Get Hit in Your Soul; Back at the Chicken Shack; What’d I Say; Blue Seven; Senor Blues; Hallelujah I Love Her So; C Jam Blues; Eddie’s Blues; Moanin’; Mamacita.
Daniel Smith: bassoon; Robert Bosscher: piano; Michael O’Brien: bass; Vincent Ector: drums. Guest artists — Ron Jackson: guitar; Efrat Shapira: violin, viola; Neil Clarke: Latin percussion; Greg “Organ Monk” Lewis: jazz organ; Frank Senior: vocals.
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