Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Sean Smith: Quartet Live!

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

The Smith quartet’s months of preparation for this live recording aboard the S.S. Norway in the fall of 1998 are evident. This is not a typical jazz cruise jam session. It is music by a working band at ease with one another and with a set of compositions that are far above the quality of most record session originals. Although bassist Smith’s playing was impressive on previous recordings with Bill Charlap, Gene Bertoncini and others, those dates only hinted at his writing ability. A splendidly sinuous version of Ellington’s “Drop Me Off in Harlem” ends the album, but it is an encore to a set of eight Smith pieces that sustain interest, something that cannot be said about the masses of originals that clog so many jazz CDs.

The opening tune, “Pipe Dream,” has melodic charm and logical harmonic structure that allow the players to display their essential qualities; Smith’s fat tone and ringing notes, the crispness of Ron Vincent’s drumming, Charlap’s encyclopedic piano mastery, the passion and restraint of Allen Mezquida’s alto saxophone. Throughout, Smith’s compositions have a thoughtful, reflective character that is evident regardless of tempos, some of which are brisk. His waltz “Enigma” (unrelated to the J.J. Johnson tune) and the headlong “Take the Bullet Trane” are contrasting manifestations of that character. In solo and accompanying Mezquida’s and Smith’s heated choruses, breathtaking playing like Charlap’s on “Bullet Trane” puts him in the forefront of today’s pianists.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.