88

Gary Smulyan: Smul's Paradise

Dan Bilawsky By

Sign in to view read count
Gary Smulyan: Smul's Paradise
While the tenor saxophone is no stranger to organ group gatherings, its big brother rarely comes to the party. It's hard to say whether a lack of interest amongst baritone saxophonists, insufficient opportunities for such combinations, or a paucity of players capable of pulling it off is responsible for this issue, but Gary Smulyan won't stand for it any longer.

Smulyan, best known for his work with the legendary Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, has never been one to shy away from an opportunity to explore new surroundings. While he initially put his alto away and took on the mantle of a baritone saxophonist for the opportunity to join Woody Herman's band in the late '70s, it proved to be a career-altering experience and he's been one of the busiest baritones in the business ever since. He has blended his instrumental voice into the fabric of big bands, piano-less trios and various other ensembles both big and small, but Smul's Paradise marks the first time that he fronts an organ group on record.

His capable comrades on this mission are some of his closest friends, who also happen to be the cream of the crop on the New York scene. While this marks the first time that Smulyan, guitarist Peter Bernstein, organist Mike LeDonne and drummer Kenny Washington have teamed up to form a quartet, shared experiences between some of these musicians on and off the bandstand make this a comfortable fit from the get-go. The entire album may have been recorded in one day, with no rehearsal time and minimal retakes, but the finished product never betrays these facts.

The eight tracks on the album hit on all of the stylistic touchstones to be expected in this setting. Balladry ("Aires"), bop-ish saxophone lines ("Smul's Paradise"), Brazilian-flavored fare ("Pistaccio"), swaggering, hard bop-based music ("Up In Betty's Room") and more come into play, as Smulyan explores the possibilities that live within this format. He also toys with preexisting material, as he re-imagines Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" as a waltz and creates a hybrid of "Seven Steps To Heaven" and "My Shining Hour" on the album-ending "Heavenly Hours." Along the way, Smulyan also pays tribute to a pair of oft-overlooked organists. Don Patterson gets his due with performances of two of his songs ("Up In Betty's Room" and "Aires") and an original written in his honor ("Blues For D.P."), while Rhoda Scott gets a nod with "Pistaccio."

Smul's Paradise features some first-rate music, while showing off another facet of Smulyan's musicianship and filling a musical void left open by many baritone saxophone bearers of the past and present. Smulyan and company succeed on all fronts here, making this a sequel-worthy session.

Track Listing

Sunny; Up In Betty's Room; Pistaccio; Smul's Paradise; Little Miss Half Steps; Aires; Blues For D.P.; Heavenly Hours.

Personnel

Gary Smulyan: baritone sax; Mike LeDonne: Hammond B-3 organ; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Kenny Washington: drums.

Album information

Title: Smul's Paradise | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Capri Records

Post a comment about this album

Tags

Shop Amazon

More

Read Improdimensions
Improdimensions
Agustí Fernández / Liudas Mockūnas
Read In Baltimore
In Baltimore
George Coleman
Read Escape The Flames
Escape The Flames
Binker and Moses

All About Jazz needs your support

Donate
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.