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Sean Smith Quartet: Trust

Dan Bilawsky By

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Trust is a key element in any successful relationship. Spouses have to trust one another in their day-to-day lives and children have to trust that their parents will be there for them, no matter what happens. Trust between close friends is often a given and, while we don't always think about it, trust between band mates is at the core of any successful musical partnership. In jazz, more than most forms of music, the musicians have to feel comfortable that they'll receive the necessary rhythmic and harmonic support to make the music work. Leaders trust their bands to create a safety net, however loose or tight, to allow for some exploration and expanded communication within their music, and they have faith that they'll follow them in their travels, whether off the beaten path or straight down the middle of the road. Bassist Sean Smith trusts his band, and it shows.

A decade separates Smith's previous leader date, Poise (Ambient, 2001), and Trust, and he clearly spent much of that time sharpening his already impressive compositional skills. In 2007, Smith's career nearly came to an abrupt end, when an angry dog bit off the end of his middle finger, but Smith overcame the injury, relearning how to play bass, and coming to the realization that he needed to focus on his own music.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that Trust features twelve of Smith's compositions, brought to life by this impressive quartet. Drummer Russell Meissner is the only holdover from Smith's previous leader date, but guitarist John Hart and saxophonist John Ellis are welcome additions. Smith immediately demonstrates that this is a tight unit, as the album opens with a number that shifts gears effortlessly between a driving tempo and a more relaxed feeling ("Betting Blind").

The rest of the album covers a wide spectrum of styles, from soulful waltzes with a spotlight on Ellis' soprano saxophone ("Bush League") to sly and swaggering swing-based number ("Lawn Ornaments" and "Ditty For Ms. de' Medici"). The band occasionally travels beyond the borders of America, touching on India ("Izmir?/The Maharajah") and Brazil ("Margin Of Error"), but does so in its own sweet way. The latter locale leads to some delightfully dovetailing lines from Hart and Ellis, along with some fine bass soloing and excitable drum work, while the former features the loosest explorations on the album.

Smith's skills as a soloist—whether delivering unaccompanied pizzicato work on one of his pieces ("Izmir?/The Maharajah"), providing some melody with his cello-like arco work ("Graham Ewan") or presenting a buoyant, mid-track performance—are central to the success of these songs, but he's not one to hog the spotlight. This is inspired ensemble work, born out of mutual respect, and there is the hope—and trust—that Smith will record this group again, without waiting for another decade to pass him by.

Track Listing: Betting Blind; Wayne's World; Lawn Ornaments; Occam's Razor; Voices; What'd You Say?; Graham Ewan; Bush League; Ditty For Ms. de' Medici; Izmir?/The Maharajah; Margin Of Error.

Personnel: John Ellis: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; John Hart: guitar; Sean Smith: bass; Russell Meissner: drums.

Title: Trust | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Self Produced

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