November 1997

Putter Smith
Night Song
GAM

It's no wonder that bassist Putter Smith has been a mainstay on the L.A. jazz scene for well over 30 years. Indeed, his sonic warmth and generosity of spirit have helped lift bandstands with Thelonious Monk, Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Art Blakey, Ray Charles, Carla Bley and Anita O'Day (to mention a few). More recently, he's pleased connoisseurs with inspired collaborations with pianist Alan Broadbent. Here, Smith-with saxophonists John Gross and Gary Foster, pianists Dave Frishberg and Patrice Rushen and drummers Joey Baron and Peter Donald-sets an adventurous pace.

There are gripping originals like Smith's "White Flight," in which an almost Ornettish stop-start, bass-piano intro prepares the way for Foster's wing-walking soprano, Rushen's bop-sprung piano and Gross' thundering tenor. I'm also partial to the bassist's melancholic "Story of O," a dark tale whose roiling emotional undercurrents recall the Gothic angst of Edgar Allen Poe. Pungent reframings of jazz standards like "Valse Hot" and "Giant Steps" are likewise compelling. Smith is a fascinatingly original soloist as he demonstrates in his arco foray in Sonny Redd's "Teef." Here, though, Smith mainly "speaks" by being the straw that stirs the drink. Bottoms up!

Originally published in November 1997
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