Gary Smulyan

Hidden Treasures

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Since the death of Gerry Mulligan in 1996, Gary Smulyan has been one of a handful of baritone saxophonists acknowledged as the top player on the cumbersome instrument. Smulyan makes a solid claim with this outstanding studio session, Hidden Treasures, in which he eschews the presence of a pianist and relies solely on the extraordinary support of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Billy Drummond. Smulyan's slightly gritty approach to the baritone owes more to Pepper Adams than to Mulligan, though he has developed a very identifiable sound of his own. The CD's title is appropriate, as none of the nine jazz compositions, or the sole popular song ("A Woman Always Understands," recorded by Nat King Cole after he switched to a full-time career as a singer), has been played or committed to tape by jazz artists very often. Art Farmer's "Stretch in F" serves as a furious opener, with Smulyan's powerful lead and a fun trade-off between McBride's arco solo and Drummond's drum breaks. Tadd Dameron's "Jahbero" initially suggests a Latin groove à la tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, though its source "All the Things You Are," becomes more prominent as the piece progresses. John Coltrane's explosive "Fifth House" (which may be the most widely recognized song on this date, even though it surely qualifies as a hidden treasure) is the perfect finale to this compelling session. Liner note writer Rob Schneiderman lays down a challenge to the listener, asking him or her to name the standard which supplied the chord changes for each of the jazz pieces, a test not made that easy at times as Smulyan throws out a few false leads. Highly recommended.

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