Live at Smalls
There has never been a jazz label quite like SmallsLIVE, now up to 40 titles and counting, all exclusively dedicated to documenting one club and scene. In this tiny basement dive at 183 West 10th in Greenwich Village, the culture is new-generation bop, and the players, mostly young, spill their guts. SmallsLIVE recordings stick you smack in the Smalls moment, the sweaty, noisy crowd close around you, the horns blaring in your face, a few feet away.
This Frank Lacy release opens with his tune “Stranded,” a confrontational two-note anthem over a hammering groove. Trumpeter Josh Evans spits flame and tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard rockets out of the ensemble and flies. Pianist Theo Hill is also ferocious, his left hand crashing, his right spewing and splashing ideas.
This recording is fun, because it renders the raw unfiltered truth of the live Smalls experience. It is not one of the label’s best efforts. Emerging players Dillard and Evans possess chops and promise. But they operate at one unrelenting level throughout, with little pacing or contrast, trying to make art by sheer force. On the two tracks where Dillard plays soprano saxophone, he is all over the place, and careens into familiar devices. Lacy, the elder statesman here, is a trombonist with a long left-of-center résumé. He makes the odd decision to take a backseat on his own album. On two tunes he does not solo at all. When he does enter the fray, he is usually brief and often perfunctory. On his own “Spirit Monitor,” he simply recycles the melody. Even on the best track, a wild charge through Freddie Hubbard’s “The Intrepid Fox,” Lacy sounds tentative and gives up after one minute.
Still, the next SmallsLIVE release, whatever it is, No. 41, could be really good. Definitely, it will show you no mercy.