Bassoon player and bandleader Daniel Smith cooks up a heady mix of blues and bop with a dash of experimental jazz in his recording, Blue Bassoon from Summit Records. Similarly to his previous albums as a leader, Bebop Bassoon and Swingin’ Bassoon, Smith tailors the bassoon to fit the specific needs of the album title. This is not to suggest that he eschews bebop or swing jazz forms on Blue Bassoon but rather accentuates the bluesy tones of his instrument and its heavy register which he gels nicely with his band comprising of pianist Martin Bejerano, bassist Edward Perez, drummer Ludwig Afonso, and guitarist Larry Campbell.
At times, the music feels like an Elvis Presley revival with twangy acoustic guitar strings shrouded in a countrified blues shading and chugging rhythmic beats like his rendition of B.B. King’s “My Baby’s Gone,” and on other occasions the music ferries a sleek percussive-jazz style like in Smith’s tinkering of Cannonball Adderly’s “Sack Of Woe.” Smith covers a wide breadth of jazz material from the likes of Horace Shaw, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and many others. He implants tweaks and nuances to the original arrangements making them appear brand new once again.
The low tones of the bassoon typically makes its notes move with a sluggish gait, but Smith’s dexterity coaxes its phrasing to move with the agility of the trumpet like in “The Jody Grind” composed by Horace Shaw. Most compositions are usually not written to include the bassoon so Smith is put in the unique position of feeling his way around the other instruments, which he does skillfully in Lee Morgan’s tune “The Double Up” as he and Bejerano’s piano keys seem to chase after each other looping themselves around one another and engaging in a jolly banter. The New Orleans/riverboat- style shuffle of Robert Johnson’s tune “From Four Till Late” has a tint of Americana blues as Campbell’s acoustic guitar returns for another round.
More bopping jazz is in store with the jumping beats of Perez’s bass and the zig-zagging sputters of Bejerano’s piano keys in “Break Out The Blues” penned by George Shearing. The album takes on a mellow cast in the soft swirling vapors of Wayne Shorter’s number “Footprints” but then picks up speed in the hopping pulsations of Sonny Rollins’ tune “Sold,” where Bejerano and Smith show off their wares swinging hard and fast.
Blue Bassoon seems like a revival of good, old-fashioned jazz and blues. Daniel Smith reminds audiences that there is nothing else like it, and that the bassoon has a distinguishable place in blues-jazz spheres. He balances his role as a leader and a fellow musician very well knowing when to navigate the arrangements, when to complement his fellow musicians, and when to take a back seat and let everyone else at the frontline. Blue Bassoon does right by blues.