A half-century after Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and Bud Powell made names for themselves in the world of jazz, it is more than likely that if these three giants somehow returned to play in New York City they would still be at the very top of the heap among their fellow musicians. A similar claim could be made for another musician, Johnny Smith, who is barely known except among jazz guitar aficionados.
Smith played most of his professional life in the studios of Manhattan, rarely recording his own sessions, and when he did record he tended to play in a low-key, intense style that demanded sustained attention to the nuances of long beautifully developed solo lines. His recordings still require that quality of attention along with repeated listening to fully grasp the complexity and depth of what is transpiring. Johnny Smith was never destined for popularity.
The Sound Of The Johnny Smith Guitar is a reissue (1960/1961) of the guitar master fronting two excellent quartets. The first of these two Roost sessions includes well-known pianist Hank Jones, bassist George Duvivier, and drummer Ed Shaughnessy. Although the second session does not have the same level of marquee names, the performance is nearly as good with pianist Bob Pancoast, bassist George Roumanis, and drummer Mousey Alexander. On both sessions the pianists are superb accompanists for Smith and subtle soloists who inspire and nudge the guitarist along. Both drummers keep their touch light and lively, with the bassists playing traditional supportive roles. Although Smith was a master of a wide range of styles, he usually recorded in the swing to bebop range with a choice of standards.
Throughout these two sessions the guitar is the main focus of the music, retaining the responsibility for the bulk of the solo work. Smith consistently rises to the occasion. His technique and confidence are such that it sounds as if his playing of the most complex, fast paced solo line is no more challenging than anything else. If you listen carefully, it is sometimes disconcerting how, in his casual, low key way, Smith apparently never strains. Each note has a full-bodied resonance that you'd expect from medium and ballad tempo playing. In addition, his shifts in tempo and dynamics within his solos are precise and emotionally acute. In short, his mastery of the demands of the instrument is simply beyond what most other name jazz guitarists could or can manage. Unhurried, confident, and of a temperament that wasn't inclined to draw attention to himself, Johnny Smith was the "real deal, and this recording is as good a single CD introduction to the lyrical master as one could hope for.
Come Rain Or Come Shine; Gypsy In My Soul; Embraceable You; Misty; As Long As There
Johnny Smith: guitar; Hank Jones: piano (1-9); George Duvivier: bass (1-9); Ed Shaughnessy: drums (1-9); Bob Pancoast: piano (10-20); George Roumanis: bass (10-20); Mousey Alexander: drums (10-20).
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