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Jimmy Smith: Angel Eyes

The subtitle of this comfortable recording, ballads & slow jams, tells the essential story in a nutshell. The groove master is once again surrounded by youngsters from the Verve roster, including trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Captured during the same sessions as Jimmy’s recorded return to Verve, Damn, this outing concentrates on the intimacy of balladry. With the exception of Hutchinson, each takes a turn dueting with Smith, there are two trio tracks, two solos (including that now-tired melody “What a Wonderful World”), and a full blown opening take on “Stolen Moments.”

Of special note is Hargrove’s continued development on fluegelhorn. Not since Art Farmer went to the flumpet exclusively and Freddie Hubbard began to experience physical problems has there been a more buttery tone on fluegel, and he works in particularly sublime symmetry with the organ grinder on “You Better Go Now.” Payton’s rich, fat trumpet tone is quite fine on “Days of Wine and Roses,” proving this cat doesn’t need a fluegelhorn to churn the butter. Whitfield is an ideal soulmate for Smith, probably more so than any other guitarist of his generation. He has the deep soul to go along with a sweet string attack and ear for the blues. It’s nice to hear the master Jimmy Smith slowed down to a soulful croon, though even then his dexterity at the keys is dangerous; the man just can’t help it.

Originally Published