Mike Smith

Sinatra Songbook

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Alto saxophonist Mike Smith spent time at the ideal listening post to come by his inspiration for Sinatra Songbook. As a member of the Voice's band in the latter part of the singer's career, Smith became steeped in Frank Sinatra's repertoire, style, and skill as a performing artist. While paying tribute, the Chicago-based Smith also effectively asserts his own artistry on this polished, well-recorded set of mainstream performances from 1995. The link between the saxophonist and his former boss comes across through qualities that Smith shares with Sinatra: a natural grace and ease with phrasing, a classy, authoritative presence, and an ability to put a strongly personal artistic mark on a repertoire of standards. Smith displays awesome facility, whether flying along the current of the rhythm section on the uptempo numbers or ruminating in world-weary introspection on the ballads. While much is made of his Cannonball Adderley influences, it is also clear that Smith's flawless execution at speed shares some of Sonny Stitt's preternatural abilities. The rhythm section of John Whitfield on bass, Bob Rummage on drums, and pianist Ron Perillo, who alternates with Jim Ryan, is absolutely impressive and a good fit with the leader. The performances, naturally, are all numbers closely associated with Sinatra, but Smith and company do a fine job of making them their own. Highlights include snappy versions of "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "I Remember You," and a fresh interpretation of "Angel Eyes" in which the group, driving off Perillo's Tyner-esque piano, evolves the song's minor blues line into almost a modal hard bop space.

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