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Gary Smulyan and Brass: Blue Suite

In brass ensemble settings by composer Bob Belden, Smulyan further establishes that he is the living, stomping, soulful extension of the baritone saxophone tradition of Pepper Adams.

Belden’s “Blue Suite” has something in common with Manny Albam’s classic The Blues Is Everybody’s Business. As Albam’s composition did in 1957, it explores facets of the blues, brings together many of the brightest young New York players and offers a fair summation of the state of the mainstream in its time. Belden explained to liner note author Ted Panken that the music draws on Ellington, Basie, Herman, Mingus, Thad Jones and others who have touched him as a writer and player. He has melded those influences into a recognizable approach of his own, writing functionally in support of the soloists. Belden, like his mentors, knows when to establish, when to consolidate, when to accent and when to back off and let the soloist and rhythm section fly. This rhythm section-Bill Charlap, Christian McBride and Kenny Washington-knows how to fly. When Belden uncorks the horns, the ensembles have a richness that belies the relatively small size of the band.

Smulyan, the principal soloist, is impressive from beginning to end. His tone seems to get bigger and his ideas more expansive from album to album. His cadenza at the end of “Blues Gentility” is a brilliant case in point. Other solos are apportioned among Charlap, McBride, trumpeters Greg Gisbert and Scott Wendholt, trombonists John Mosca and Jason Jackson, Bob Stewart on tuba and John Clark, startling on French Horn. Trumpeter Earl Gardner, bass trombonist Douglas Purviance, hornist Fred Griffith and Washington round out the ensemble.

Like The Blues Is Everybody’s Business, this album will have a long shelf life.

Originally Published