Melvin Smith: Portrait

There’s no mistaking where Melvin Smith’s heart lies. Weaving a tasteful composite of swinging hard bop and soulful spirituals, the saxophonist plays with unadorned sincerity, focusing on melody rather than embellishment. Making direct statements on tenor or lightly bending notes on soprano, Smith sounds best when lightly sparring with trumpeter Reggie Pittman, as on the stirring “Go Down Moses” or fanciful “Manasseh.” A Latin touch gives several tracks extra bounce, and the closing “We Shall Overcome” bursts with bright optimism.