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Walter Bell: Blue Smoke

Herbie Mann protege Walter Bell revives the flute as a dynamic & cool lead voice on the aptly-titled Blue Smoke (Reika 0827-81; 45:52). Backed by a traditional small ensemble known as “the L.J.U.” (for Latin Jazz Unit), Bell negotiates dark, trilling turns (the sensual Latin walk “Corcovado”) and dancing, piping runs (a hopping, upbeat version of the Johnny Mathis tear-jerker “Misty”) with equal ease. While most contemporary flutists gravitate towards either drippy melodrama or cold, technical play, Bell mines the middle ground, playing with great speed and detail, while refusing to compromise emotion. The traditional formats of the L.J.U. give the flutist plenty of opportunity to sparkle, on tunes like “Cause I Felt Like It,” with its “Route 66”-recalling bluesy bass line and snaking, corner-hugging flute melody, and “Burrell’s Blues,” which is purely fun and free. Throughout, Bell shows the pure talent and musical sensibility to carry Herbie Mann’s banner to a next generation of jazz flutists.

Originally Published