Steve Smith

Chantal's Way

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Bassist Smith (not the drummer of the same name) presents a straight piano-bass-drums jazz trio, but the music is far from straight-ahead, though it is within the modern mainstream. Pianist Richie Beirach adds both new dimensions and his personal harmonic mysterioso embellishments to four of Smith's originals, three standards, and two zingers. Drummer Billy Hart sounds more inspired here than on any previous recordings. His punctuations and shadings are fresh as ever, working extraordinarily well with Smith, whose deliberate, patient, unspectacular bottom tones provide the coal for Beirach's sulfur and Hart's diamonds. The result is a gunpowder fuse to blast open your ears. The most remarkable selections of the nine are three standards revamped by Beirach, for the most part. His abstracted "Stella by Starlight," loaded with chord substitutions, cannot be explained. A willowy, dark bossa with repetitive piano chords changes up "All the Things You Are," and a heavier ten-fingered Beirach complements and overpowers the standard melody of "You Don't Know What Love Is." Smith's compositions include the title track, a light samba made heavier by deep piano and active drums; "Blue Cave" as a brooding, understated slow waltz with Beirach's signature explorations; a rubato to lugubrious "Kilauea"; and the delicately bouncing, quick, and bright waltz "Distant Voices" (with a large drum solo from the witty Hart). Also included is Beirach's famous and floating "Elm," sporting suspended animation in the ECM fashion that beguiles Smith. The closer, John Coltrane's "Expression," is also done freely and lovingly in no time. This is not your father's Waller-Tatum-Hines jazz trio, unless he's into Bill Evans, Mal Waldron, or Paul Bley. Smith, who loves the music of Scott LaFaro and that kind of postmodern bassist, has made quite a statement with this extraordinarily consistent and inspired performance.

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