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08/23/11

Daniel Smith
Bassoon Goes Latin Jazz

Give Daniel Smith points for persistence. He doesn’t give up easily. His mission to convince us that the bassoon is a bona fide instrument of jazz has gone on for four albums now. There was The Swingin’ Bassoon, Bebop Bassoon, Blue Bassoon and now, inevitably, Bassoon Goes Latin Jazz!. Of course it does.

To be fair, this is not Smith’s only line of work. His work in classical music is far greater; he has, for instance, recorded the complete Vivaldi bassoon concertos. Still, he loves to play jazz on his horn. Why else would he keep coming back to jazz when he clearly doesn’t have to?

This is an uphill battle, getting us to buy into jazz bassoon solos. The instrument, after all, has its limitations. Its hollow, guttural and distant tonalities hamstring the deliveries of Eddie Harris’ funky “Listen Here” and Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” (as if the bassoon could ever take the place of Bird’s alto).

Yet elsewhere, darn it, the thing works. Smith’s work—workout, indeed—is punchy and assertive on runs through Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo From the Dance at the Gym” and Lee Morgan’s “Mr. Kenyatta,” and his touch is perfectly light on the samba “Black Orpheus.” It doesn’t hurt that Smith has assembled a crack combo in pianist Daniel Kelly, bassist Michael O’Brien, drummer Vincent Ector and percussionist Neil Clarke (plus guest trombonist Roswell Rudd and guest guitarist Sandro Albert). The world may not be ready for the bassoon to serve as a lead instrument in jazz, but Smith makes the case that it can be more than mere novelty.

Originally published in September 2011
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