02.08.15 December 2014 Issue of Jazz Inside Magazine
TIME WILL TELL - MISMWO Music 07904 - www.melvinsmithsax.com. Time Will Tell; Hippodelphia; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; Mom and Pop; Holy Land; Manasseh; I Want Jesus To Walk With Me; Dontchange; 1750 Washington St.; Trylenera Part IV; Faith In Action.
PERSONNEL: Melvin Smith, tenor; Anthony Wonsey, piano or Grew Lewis, organ; Corcoran Holt, bass; Andrae Murchison, trombone;
By Scott Yanow
In jazz, the innovators and pacesetters who blaze new musical paths tend to rightfully get the most publicity. The innovators come up with new approaches to improvising, introducing previously unheard sounds and ideas that may or may not be influential in the current time but generally affect the future of jazz. In the case of the most influential giants such as Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian and John Coltrane (to name three), even their throwaway phrases even- tually became part of the jazz vocabulary.
Nearly as important in jazz are the master- ful interpreters. Those musicians may not be inventing new styles or reinventing older ap- proaches but instead add their fresh voices to the jazz mainstream. They find a way to carve out their own musical identity within the ideas of past or current masters, helping to make the innovations of others accessible to a wider audi- ence while having a good time playing in what- ever style they most enjoy.
Melvin Smith is a top-notch interpreter. He was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. Smith began playing the saxophone when he was 13. He studied at the Berklee College of Music and earned a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from Queens College. Among Smith’s most important musical associations since moving to New York have been Charli Persip, Michael Henderson, Norman Connors and Hubert Eaves III. While open to the influence of more recent stylists, Smith has managed to carve out his own sound out of the hard bop/soul jazz tradition.
Time Will Tell is Melvin Smith’s fourth recording as a leader (following Portrait, Evi- dence and I Surrender All) and the first CD that he has headed in four years. At 40, Smith is in top form throughout this wide-ranging program. The performances on Time Will Tell can easily be divided into four different areas. Three selections (“Time Will Tell," “Hipodelphia" and “Trylenera Part IV") feature Smith in a sextet with trombonist Andrae Murchison and guitarist Jerome Harris) that is reminiscent of the Jazz Crusaders of the 1960s. That is partly due to the tenor-trombone frontline but also is reflected in the swinging but soulful style. It is a particular treat getting to hear Joe Zawinul’s relatively
obscure “Hippodelphia." Two of the finest performances, “Polka
Dots And Moonbeams" and Cedar Walton’s “Holy Land," match Smith on duets with pianist Anthony Wonsey. The tenor-saxophonist ca- resses the melody of “Polka Dots" and plays “Holy Land" with quiet intensity along with a passionate yet mellow sound. On four songs (“Mom And Pop," “Manasseh," “Dontchange" and “1750 Washing- ton St."), Smith leads a trio also including organ- ist Greg Lewis and drummer Jeremy Warren. All but “1750 Washington St." are his originals and these range from a moody ballad to a blues with a bridge (“Dontchange"). The remaining two numbers (“I Want Jesus To Walk With Me" and a lengthy and relaxed version of Bobby Wat- son’s “Faith In Action") have Smith joined by Wonsey, bassist Corcoran Holt, drummer Alvin Atkinson Jr. and (on “Faith") guitarist Harris. In all of the settings, Melvin Smith sounds excellent. He deserves to be much better known.
01.26.11 Edward Blanco E Jazz Review
By: Edward Blanco
Unveiling his third release as a leader, soulful New York saxophonist Melvin Smith borrows from the great Thelonious Monk for the title piece as well as taking a page from George Gershwin, Pat Metheny and McCoy Tyner among others in crafting a ten-piece program of post bop music. Beginning the album with a 1960s post bop rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing," Smith engages in a musical conversation with his tenor saxophone covering a lot of ground and different styles throughout this disc.
Shifting from a trio format to a quintet, the saxophonist enlists the help of several players some of whom, except bassist Corcoran Holt—who appears on every piece—share the duties on different tracks. Jeb Patton and Sharp Radway share the piano as does Alvin Atkinson, Jr. and Sam Knight who play the drums. Finally there's trombonist Andrae Murchison who performs on the three tracks where a quintet format is employed.
Immediately obvious once you sample the disc is that Smith makes no doubt whose album this is for the voice of the tenor is pronounced in the unquestioned lead on every tune. Just listen to Metheny's “James (For April)" and you'll hear Smith open up in an assertive manner and keep the tempo throughout providing, what seems to be, one continuous solo for half the tune until Atkinson comes in with his own brisk drumming. The title piece is one moving number and one of the stand out pieces of the repertoire where Smith delivers some of his best chops.
Jill Scott's “Golden" takes a softer tone than the original and also includes some funky sounds. Smith and Murchison combine for delicious horn work on the sprite and melody-rich Donald Brown number “Afronomical." Bassist Holt introduces the Gershwin classic “Summertime" performed in a trio format with Atkinson on the drums leaving Smith to shine on the lead. The program end with Tyner's “Passion dance" and a Smith arrangement of the traditional folk song “When the Saints Go Marching In" completing a buoyant and perky session of jazz.
Melvin Smith is clearly one of the finest reed men in the jazz business today and this latest effort
adds to an already sturdy foundation that the saxophone is in very good hands with Smith. One listen to Evidence provides all the proof you need to affirm that assertion.
Label: Self Produced
Artist Web: www.melvinsmithsax.com
01.04.09 Berman Music Foundation I Surrender All Review
I Surrender All
By Tom Ineck
At 34, saxophonist Melvin Smith is deserving of more recognition. The Jacksonville, Fla., native is an excellent composer and interpreter with a broad range of stylistic influences and enough technique on alto, soprano and tenor horns to make “I Surrender All," his second release as a leader, a very enjoyable listening experience.
Smith brings a warmth and a sense of spirituality to everything he does, from the gospel roots of the title track to the playful funkiness of “Burgoyne Dr.," named for the street on which he grew up, to the heart-felt tribute “Mom and Pop," a lithe and lilting waltz performed to perfection by Smith on tenor sax.
The uptempo, uplifting “We Shall Not Be Moved / Firm Roots (For Dr. King)" has its obvious inspiration in the ongoing struggle to realize Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality. The civil rights anthem meshes well with “Firm Roots," a modern standard by pianist Cedar Walton. “Speak to My Heart" is a lovely melody, with trumpeter Reggie Pittman and trombonist Andre Murcheson adding harmonic depth.
Smith returns to the subject of family with his composition “Baby Sister," a surging Latin tune with some very nice piano work by Steve Lee and a trumpet solo by Pittman. The bluesy piano of Gregory Royals is a marvelous foil for Smith’s saxophone on a unique duo arrangement of “Amazing Grace."
Bobby Watson’s great tune “In Case You Missed It" is wisely chosen as a vehicle for Smith’s rapid-fire also sax improvisations, with accompaniment by Lee, bassist Lino C. Gomez and drummer Sam Knight. On “The Joy of the Lord," Smith and company express the joy inherent in the title, with a
But it is the closer, Horace Silver’s classic “Peace," that stands out in Smith’s thorough exploration of the beautiful changes and all the emotional and spiritual ramifications of the piece. On alto sax, he again pairs off with a pianist—this time Hubert Eaves III—to create a profound musical dialogue.
After a slight pause, it is followed by an extended tenor sax workout with references to “Softly, as in A Morning Sunrise" and backed only by bass and drums. Herein, Smith pays homage to Coltrane, Rollins, Joe Henderson and other masters of the tenor sax who are among his apparent influences.
Smith explains his very personal musical intentions in the liner notes:
“As one grows, a certain level of self-introspection must take place. It is my pleasure to present to you, the listener, the fruit of my journey."
With “I Surrender All," he has fulfilled those intentions admirably, and the artistic fruits are sweet, indeed.
11.20.07 All Music Guide Review
Melvin Smith's jazz is steeped in many different influences. The tenor saxophonist is well accompanied by trumpeter/flugelhornist Reggie Pittman, and a pair of pianists (either Stephen Lee or Gregory Royals), along with two different drummers (Sam Knight or Ezra Henry). Smith draws from his church background, offering an upbeat calypso arrangement of "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" and a burning medley of the spirituals "Go Down Moses" and "Wade in the Water." Smith's lyrical setting of Donny Hathaway's R&B ballad "Someday We'll All Be Free" and a thoughtful, spacious extended treatment of Billie Holiday's signature song "God Bless the Child" (with a reverent introduction by Royals) work very well. He switches to soprano sax for his piece "Manasseh," which features soulful interplay with Pittman. Finally, he transforms "We Shall Overcome" into a soft, yet strutting vehicle that retains its spiritual overtones. ~ Ken Dryden, All Music Guide
11.20.07 Portrait All About Jazz Review
Melvin Smith | Self Published (2007)
By Michael P. Gladstone Discuss
There is nothing newfangled here, but if mainstream bebop jazz saxophone is to your interests, then you will give this debut high marks.
Melvin Smith is a native of Jacksonville, Florida. Armed with a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, he was also honored there with the Lennie Johnson Award after graduation. Smith then studied under Jimmy Heath at the Queens College (New York) music department, gaining his Master's Degree in 1999.
Smith uses his church-going beliefs in the composition of his music, and the more secularly known tunes. The opening "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," written by M.O'Shields, is transmogrified as a semi-calypso that would get a nod from Sonny Rollins. On the traditional medley "Go Down Moses/Wade in the Water," Smithâ€™s arrangement is straight out of the classic early 1960s Blue Note sound. The tenor saxophonist jumps out and provides a masculine and melodic solo that is redolent of Hank Mobley at his best. Trumpeter Reggie Pittman shows that he is no slouch, with a solo that conjures up some Kenny Dorham vibes.
On Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzogâ€™s "God Bless the Child," Smith engages in a lengthy tenor sax duet with pianist Gregory Royals, which begins as a reflective ballad and then intensifies during its almost eleven-minute stretch. Smith brings a more reverential tone to Donnie Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free," and picks up the soprano sax for his own "Manasseh" and Pete Seegerâ€™s "We Shall Overcome."
This album links in with the early 1960s Donald Byrd efforts including A New Perspective (Blue Note, 1962) and I'm Tryin' To Get Home (Blue Note, 1964). Although these releases were far more ambitious in delivering gospel jazz, Smith's first release imparts the same feeling.
09.27.07 E Jazz News Review
Posted by: editor on Thursday, September 27, 2007 - 08:49 AM
By: Edward Blanco
A deeply religious man with a mission, Melvin Smith penned and arranged all the music and produced his debut album as leader with “Portrait." Smith combines a bit of gospel, world beat, folk and rock influences in a largely jazz palette that comes across in swinging fashion here.
Smith plays the tenor and soprano saxophones on the album and is accompanied by Lino C. Gomez (bass), Reggie Pittman (trumpet/flugelhorn), Stephen Lee and Gregory Royals on piano, Sam Knight and Ezra Henry on drums.
Don’t let the titles of the various tracks fool you, the music is not religious, it’s just good and jazzy. The opener, “Lord I lift You Name on High," pulsates with an up-beat tone and a nice beat. The second track ,"Go Down Moses / Wade In The Water," is more subdued starting out very gospel-like then turns kind of boppish with some mean tenor passages from Smith in a fine number.
The leader plays the soprano on the sweet “Manasseh," and tenor on both “Trylenera’ (part one and two). Part two being perhaps the best cut here. One of the standards on the album, arranged by Smith, is the almost eleven minute version of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child," essentially a duet with pianist Royals that flows very softly.
Whether playing gently or blowing hard and furious, Melvin Smith lays down nine tracks of saxophone savvy music in a burner of an album. Painting a successful “Portrait" of his music, Smith delivers a compelling performance on this first offering.
Label: Self Published
Artist Web: www.melvinsmithsax.com