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Gary Smulyan: Smul's Paradise

Edward Blanco By

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Recognized as one of the premiere baritone saxophonist in jazz today, Gary Smulyan has long had an affinity for the classic jazz organ trios and on Smul's Paradise he finally pays tribute to the format joining forces with Mike LeDonne, a master of the Hammond B3 organ. Not since saxophonist Ronnie Cuber performed with Lonnie Smith in the early '70s, has a baritone saxophonist led a typical organ trio. One major difference with this recording however; that the saxophonist fronts a quartet rather than a standard trio for this purpose, enlisting the help of guitarist Peter Bernstein and drumming sensation Kenny Washington to realize this long-awaited homage.

Though the theme here is to remember the music of organ trios in general, with "Up In Betty's Room," "Aires" and Smulyan's own "Blues For D.P.," the album also serves as a tribute to the late Prestige Records organist Don Patterson, a favorite of both Smulyan and LeDonne. The duo present a dynamite combination forging powerful solo moments throughout the session revealing just how exciting the baritone sax and organ grind can sound. The opening swinging salvo is proof enough as Smulyan and LeDonne provide blistering improvised solo moments on a furious treatment of the Bobby Herb '60s pop classic "Sunny," so unique that the melody is a challenge to discern.

The rendition of organist Rhonda Scott's "Pistachio" is definitely one of the brighter highlights of the album featuring sprite solos from Bernstein, LeDonne and the leader firing up an already funky tune. The original title track features the saxophonist at his best letting it all hang out with one steamy solo after another. Of course he's not the only one who sounds off on this piece; the other players also take turns displaying their hard-bop chops. Washington is especially pronounced on the George Coleman standard "Little Miss Half Step," while Smulyan's light bluesy dedication piece to Patterson, "Blues For D.P." finds both saxophone and organ voices providing the meat of the melody.

Arguably the defining piece of the tribute has to be Patterson's "Aires," a slow-moving sensitive balladic piece serving to highlight the husky burly baritone and the grinding organ sounds as perfectly suited to interpret beautiful warm-toned ballads. The fast-paced moving burner "Heavenly Hours" closes the album delivering one last burst of fire from the sax man. Though not a typical tribute album where the focus is usually on paying homage to one musician, Gary Smulyan's broader organ trio theme, actually began as a tribute to Don Patterson. Nevertheless, Smul's Paradise is a special album where the talents of four jazz luminaries are harnessed to produce an exciting, compelling post-bop sizzler of a recording.

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