This 1998 release is a satisfying session of freebop, post-bop, and avant-garde sounds from Chicago-based Rich Corpolongo, educator, author, arranger, composer, and master reed player. Corpolongo, who has worked with Eddie Harris, Herbie Hancock, Gary Burton, and Oliver Nelson, is an incisive, precise, and articulate player, with a cohesive and imaginative flow to his improvisations. Heard here on alto and soprano saxes, clarinet, and piccolo, Corpolongo has a knack for making his often quite advanced pieces accessible. The CD offers lyrical, impressionistic works, contemporary blues-derived performances, and energetic straight-ahead playing. The influence of 20th century composers Arnold Schoenberg, Anton von Webern, and Karlheinz Stockhausen is evident on tunes with daunting titles like "Experiment," "Tone Row," and "Margin of Space"; however, even these pieces rarely lose sight of the swing imperative. Pianist Larry Luchowski, bassist Eric Hochberg, and drummer Mike Raynor communicate and anticipate at the highest levels on even the freest of the seven Corpolongo originals. The trio makes an art of nuanced support, crafting supple and elegant vehicles that let the spaces between the notes speak. Luchowski's approach calls to mind some of the comping and soloing strategies of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Raynor is a nimble and melodic source of sustained swing. Hochberg has a clean, full sound that pulses with authority. In many ways, Smiles evokes the inside/outside sounds of Eric Dolphy, George Russell, and Jackie McLean during the 1960s. This is not to suggest the sound is dated; rather, it's an indication of how timeless this music is, and, as Corpolongo's quartet makes clear, how much fertile ground there is to explore in this vein.
AllMusic Review by Jim Todd