Sean Smith

Sean Smith Quartet Live

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Recorded over three days at the Floating Jazz Festival aboard the S.S. Norway, bassist Smith and his quartet present eight of the leader's mainstream jazz compositions and a Duke Ellington cherry on top. Allen Mezquida is clearly from the Phil Woods-Jackie McLean-Richie Cole school -- bop-influenced, tonally centered, and with a very slight tart edge. Bill Charlap continues his trek as a fully developed pianist, whether comping, accompanying, or taking his arcing solos to their full zenith of expression. Smith himself is a decent composer and bassist, and while not breaking ground or rattling sabres, he takes care of all business in an unassuming manner within the tradition. The band starts out swinging hard on "Pipe Dream," where Smith's half-time bass somewhat holds in the reins. Ron Vincent is a hard-driving, tasteful drummer who needs no shackles, and he has his head later on this cut, as well as most of the remainder of the CD. "Minor Peace" is a nicely attired waltz with fine, bright pianistics and a high end bass solo. The 9½-minute "A Not So Sad Folk Song" is a ballad to light swing tune, "Quiet Debacle" a light samba; "Secret Ballad" is introduced by true sadness via Charlap's introspective piano and Smith's arco bass, leading to the sing-songy implied bossa of "Song Without a Lyric." The band gets a bit bolder from midpoint on. "Blues for Beans" is an exemplary bit of hip, modern composing and playing. Scurrying unison alto and piano contrasts with dark blue bass, then a rollicking piano and hard swinging alto puts several exclamation points at the end. Clever stop-start accents lead to the hard-bopping "Take the Bullet Trane," while the "Simone"-like waltz "Enigma" has Charlap really asserting his pianistic manhood. He's really the star of this group, as he also proves on the low-end rumblings and strident flavorings of "Drop Me Off in Harlem," Mezquida's alto nicely extrapolating the melody. Over the total of 75 minutes, this program has its cruise-control moments, while also allowing sparks to fly on occasion. When the heat is turned up with a little judicious editing, Smith's pieces can grow in time to be distinct additions to the tradition.

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