Sometimes you have to get beyond the biases suggested by an artist's past experience. Drummer Jason Smith has been a busy west coast session player on soundtracks and pop records by artists like Enrique Iglesias. Not exactly a pedigree bound to generate excitement on the jazz front. Still, he's also worked with Mike Keneally, the guitarist from Frank Zappa's last touring ensemblenot fitting a purist's jazz definition, perhaps, but demonstrating a chameleon-like ability and veering towards fusion territory, at least some of the time.
Similarly, Gary Husband is best known to American audiences as drummer on many of guitarist Allan Holdsworth's best albums. But he's also created an equally significant parallel career as a pianist on albums like his remarkably interpretive solo disc The Things I See, his ensemble-oriented Aspire, and his all-star Force Majeure projectwhere he primarily sits at the kit, but spends some time at the piano as well.
As a result, Smith's debut as a leader, Think Like Thisalso featuring Dave Carpenter, a bassist who's worked with artists as diverse as Holdsworth, pianist Alan Pasqua, and vibraphonist Terry Gibbsis a more than pleasant surprise that ought to bring greater attention to everyone involved.
The album's strength is the ways it avoids any kind of stylistic purity, while still feeling completely natural and unforced. There's a fusion vibe about Smith's own "Gnu York, but not in the excessive, more-is-more approach subscribed to by so many fusion players. Instead, it's in Husband's appealing blend of piano, Fender Rhodes, and synthesizer, plus a rock and roll energy that imbues the tune's metrically complex twists and turns, even as it leans towards more advanced harmonic diction.
"Taylor Made is a nod to British pianist John Taylor, fully capturing the harmonic density and ambiguity that so defines his work, as well as the longer-form and sometimes episodic nature of his writing. Husband, this time strictly on grand piano, makes it clear that he's conversant with a larger and more historically detailed musical paletteas is Smith, whose solo evidences remarkable thematic construction.
From there the album continues its remarkably organic path of loosely improvisational interaction. While form makes up a big part of the picture, freedom comes in a significant second. With Smith's five compositions broken up by contributions from Kenny Wheeler, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Husband himself, the trio's strength is precisely its members' diverse backgrounds. This is unequivocally a jazz record, but one that could only be made by players conversant with other styles. A familiar tune like "The Way You Look Tonight is magically rearranged by Husband; Carpenter's theme provides but the barest of ties to the original.
With all the trio records released this year, it's certainly possible that Think Like This may get lost in the shuffle. And that's a shame, because strong writing, imaginative arrangements, and what will be for most jazz fans some unexpectedly inspired playing make it well worth scouting out.
Gnu York; Taylor Made; Halcyon; The Way You Look Tonight; The Magician in You; Smatter; Lullabye; Three Lies; White Nights; Dolphin Dance.
Dave Carpenter: acoustic bass; Gary Husband: piano, Fender Rhodes, Moog; Jason Smith: