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The Jason Smith Trio - 2007 - "Tipping Point"

(66:35, Moonjune Records)


TRACK LIST:                                 
1.  Carole’s Garden 9:24
2.  Way You Look Tonight 8:19
3.  Follow Your Heart 8:00 
4.  Star Bright 6:37
5.  Heyoke 13:27
6.  Three Lies 14:29
7.  Up & Away 6:17


Jason Smith – drums
Dave Carpenter – bass
Gary Husband – pianos  

Prolusion. Here’s THE JASON SMITH TRIO, hailing from the United Kingdom, and their new outing “Tipping Point”, following on from their debut CD “Think Like This”. The press release details their music, but is less informative regarding their history, shedding no light on how and when the project was formed. One of the participants, Gary Husband, is well known to me as a musician. A cult person in himself, Gary has been playing with plenty of legendary artists, in particular with Level-42, a highly original English band, still performing the kind of jazz-rocky New-Wave with which they began in distant 1981, when they brought out their self-titled debut LP – via the major Polydor label.

Analysis. This CD portrays the outfit playing live at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles on May 16, 2006, all seven tracks present being new as regards their personal repertoire, whilst in fact almost all of them are renderings of the pieces by various jazz artists, most of whom Jason Smith cites as his benefactors, of which in turn only the names of John McLaughlin and Keith Jarrett are familiar to me, generally speaking. The trio shows themselves for the most part as an excellent group of jazz players, exploring various domains of the genre, but what astonishes me most of all is that, originally a drummer, Gary Husband appears as a free piano player here, really masterfully handling the instrument (both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, to be precise), the only original composition in the set, Three Lies, coming from his pen. What a gifted, versatile person, a veteran musician who still continues to progress – phenomenally! Taken by and large, the disc can be divided into three types of compositions, yet anyhow some of the pieces from the same category will need additional explanatory comment. Across the first two tracks, Carole’s Garden and Way You Look Tonight, the musicians establish a highly busy dialog between them where all three of the soloing lines, although vectored differently (always, plus seemingly endlessly changing their course), interlace with each other in such a wonderful way that the result is a perfect musical ball rather than a tangle, though of course, I had to give a few spins to the compositions before I came to this conclusion. Both remind me in some ways of Chick Corea when-teamed-up with drummer Barry Altschul and bassist Dave Holland (as well as some of Chick’s collaborations with Russian composer Rodion Schedrin), done in a more modern and at the same time less frantic way. Respectively, Star Bright and Up And Away conclude Side A and Side B of this imaginary LP. These have their own merits, but are much mellower affairs, with more standard features, both finding the trio at their most subdued. Nevertheless while the arrangements here aren’t as free-and-wild as those on the first two tracks – very far from it – they aren’t composed either, so none can be regarded otherwise than as a jazz ballad. Heyoke (13:30) is more eclectic, but only during its first and last quarters, whereas the core of the piece depicts something reflectively-atmospheric and long-drawn at once, with quite a few of the sounds of silence. The only weak spot here, it makes this long recording even longer, but why? The only original (and the longest, 14:30) track on the disc, Three Lies, shows another facet of Gary’s many abilities, as a composer. There are only a few purely jazzy movements to be found here, while most of the piece alternates space-fusion arrangements with those coming across as a tribute to classic Manfred Mann Earth Band at their jazziest. Brilliant! John McLaughlin’s Follow Your Heart is the only fully structured piece here, entirely lying within the classic jazz rock idiom, and it would be acting against my conscience not to say I find it to be another winner. I really enjoy the first two tracks, very much, but nonetheless I feel more comfortable when hearing ornate patterns developing on the basis of fixed themes, especially when the latter are numerous and frequently change each other as well as their own configurations. Four tracks find room for Dave Carpenter’s histrionics on bass; two reveal benefit performances for drummer Smith, and only one, well, the same for Husband’s pianos. But since The Jason Smith Trio is in fact nothing else than a piano trio (and how can it be otherwise - a drum trio?), the lion’s share of the disc’s success belongs to the keyboardist. By the way, just listen to how well he imitates the guitar sounds on each of the two tracks described last, only using electric piano.

Conclusion. I see much of the review sounds like a hymn to the piano player, but he indeed comes across as the main driving force of this effort. One way or another, “Tipping Point” is overall a very good recording by a classic jazz piano trio that rarely, if ever, falls into any kind of groove, and therefore comes highly recommended to jazz and jazz-rock lovers.

VM: May 6, 2008
The Rating Room

Related Links:

Moonjune Records


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