Stephen Smith | In a Mellow Tone

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Jazz: Traditional Jazz Combo Jazz: Mainstream Jazz Moods: Type: Vocal
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In a Mellow Tone

by Stephen Smith

With singers like Steve Smith, the audience knows from the first note that they will be guided expertly through each song and through the emotional world it represents. And so it is on this recording, a classic voice with trio, quartet, and solo piano.
Genre: Jazz: Traditional Jazz Combo
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  Song Share Time Download
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1. Dream Dancing
6:06 $0.99
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2. The Best Thing for You
3:27 $0.99
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3. Stompin at the Savoy
5:30 $0.99
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4. Lazy River
2:40 $0.99
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5. Monkery's the Blues
4:57 $0.99
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6. Sophisticated Lady
3:53 $0.99
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7. Sometimes I'm Happy
5:07 $0.99
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8. Thou Swell
2:53 $0.99
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9. Don't Go to Strangers
2:00 $0.99
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10. Don't Misunderstand
2:18 $0.99
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11. In a Mellow Tone
4:25 $0.99
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12. Triste
4:12 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Vocals – Stephen Smith
Piano – Bill Duffy
Alto Saxophone/Flute – Edward Fiorenza
tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11
Bass – Bruce Gertz
tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11
Drums – Miki Matsuki
tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11

Produced by Stephen Smith and George Trksak
West Roxbury, MA, 2018
www.Stephensmithsings.com
Graphics, recording, mix, and mastering
by George Trksak at Bop Stop Studios


Liner Notes by Steve Provizer. Steve Provizer is a musician, actor and writer who writes about jazz for publications like Artsfuse.org, Downbeat and Allaboutjazz.com.

In some ways, this album is a throwback to a time when the baritone voices of Billy Eckstein, Johnny Hartman and Joe Williams defined jazz singing. This tradition of rich baritones is well represented today in the voice and artistic sensibility of Stephen Smith. Like his predecessors, Smith has an unerring sense of repertoire, choosing songs from the Great American Songbook that are written with depth, wit, and cover a wide emotional territory ranging from the playful and the swinging to the sophisticated and heartbreaking. With singers like Eckstein, Hartman and now, Steve Smith, the audience knows from the first note that they will be guided expertly through each song and through the emotional world it represents. And so it is on this recording, a classic voice with trio, quartet, and solo piano accompaniment. Dream Dancing, a Cole Porter tune, was written for the 1941 film You'll Never Get Rich and was first recorded by Fred Astaire. Smith sings it with a light vibrato, in a medium-slow tempo. A sweet flute solo and creative bass lines provide simpatico accompaniment to Smith’s lovely reading of the melody. The Best Thing For You is Me, an Irving Berlin tune written for Call Me Madam in 1950 is taken here in medium swinging tempo. Smith’s approach is casual but committed. After a nice piano solo, Smith’s comes back in and playfully takes it home. Edgar Sampson’s tune Stompin at Savoy has been around a long time-since 1934. Seldom is it taken as it is here-in a relaxed strolling tempo. It turns this song, which usually emphasizes rhythm into a more romantic foray. A chill tenor solo is followed by a piano solo with some nice double time, then a melodic bass solo. Smith closes it out on an upbeat, Basie-like note. Up a Lazy River is also a venerable tune, written in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin. Taken in tempo a la “lazy” river; it sounds like Steve Smith has taken a few trips down this river and our laconic host has no trouble summoning up the properly sultry atmosphere. There’s a little bit of Jack Teagarden in Smith’s vocal. Monkery's Blues; aka Blue Monk comes to us via Thelonius Monk, lyrics by Abbey Lincoln (1961), and beautifully recorded by Carmen McCrae (1990). The tenor solo summons up a taste of Monk’s long time companion Charley Rouse. Smith convincingly scats a blues chorus, then takes it out with rhythmic freedom. "You gotta pay those dues" Smith says and he has. Duke Ellington’s 1932 composition Sophisticated Lady is a challenge for any singer; S.S. decides to take it with just piano accompaniment. Bill Duffy’s piano solo shows he understands all the twists and turns of this lovely Ellington tune. Smith takes it out in a satisfying rubato ending. Sometimes I'm Happy, written by Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans in 1927. After adept tenor and piano solos, Smith comes back with a scat solo, trading sparkling 4's with drummer Matsuki. In the final chorus, Smith takes it up an energy notch or two. Rodgers and Harts Thou Swell, from 1927, is taken in a slowish stroll tempo that goes into double time. After his solo, pianist Duffy’s comping inspires Smith to play with the rhythm and melody, putting his individual mark on this classic tune. With "Don't go to strangers and "Don't Misunderstand," Smith pays homage to vocalist Mark Murphy, who made a medley of these tunes on his 1979 Satisfaction Guaranteed album. Smith's version is informed by Murphy's approach as well as by Etta Jones' well known 1960 recording. But here, using the full range of his voice and just piano accompaniment, Smith spins the music into midnight in a dark bistro.

In a Mellow Tone, rocked by Ellington and company in 1940 swings here, Smith burnishing the Milt Gabler lyrics. Shining tenor and piano solos set up Smith’s return, and he obviously is having a ball toying with the lyrics, the melody and the time. With this mellow song you can't go wrong-Got that right. Good way to encapsulate this whole CD.
Triste-Smith scats an intro to this well-known Bossa Nova tune by Antonio Carlos Jobim, taking a relaxed, conversational approach to Jobin’s pretty melody. Tenor sax follows with a solo in the same mellow vein, hinting at Stan Getz’s work with Joao Gilberto. Smith picks the melody back up, touching lightly on the melancholy of the lyrics. As he does in the intro, Smith scats over the vamp and brings the tune and the album to a close with a heartfelt tag on “sad is to live in solitude.”

Stephen Smith is a veteran jazz singer based in New England who has a deep baritone voice. While his tone sometimes recalls Billy Eckstine a bit in its richness, he also hints at times at the wit and chance taking style of Mark Murphy. He caresses the melodies and lyrics of the Great American Songbook, swings at every tempo and, through his phrasing and subtle improvising, adds his own musical personality to the songs that he interprets.

On his latest project, Smith is joined by pianist Bill Duffy, bassist Bruce Gertz, drummer Miki Matsuki and occasionally Edward Fiorenza on tenor and flute. The rhythm section is tasteful and melodic while Fiorenza’s tenor playing is influenced by the sound of Paul Gonsalves from Duke Ellington’s orchestra. They all fit in very well with the singer, whether it is the trio, the full quartet, or pianist Duffy on a few duets.

The set begins with Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing.” Stephen Smith starts the song by briefly reciting some of the lyrics before he displays his wide range as a singer, hitting high notes quite well. Fiorenza takes a fine flute solo and Duffy has the first of his many tasteful spots on piano. A lightly swinging version of “The Best Thing For You” (which has the singer really digging into the words) precedes a swinging “Stompin’ At The Savoy.”

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazy River” is taken as an enjoyable vocal-piano duet with Smith’s phrasing and choice of notes being a little reminiscent of Louis Armstrong (although not with Satch’s sound!). He sings “Monkery’s Blues” (a vocalized “Blue Monk”) and scats effectively for a chorus. After putting a lot of quiet feeling into his interpretation of “Sophisticated Lady,” Stephen Smith swings with the quartet on “Sometimes I’m Happy,” sounds comfortable on “Thou Swell” (whether it is a ballad or taken in doubletime), is subtle and emotional on a medley of “Don’t Go To Strangers” and “Don’t Misunderstand,” and sounds quite exuberant on “In A Mellow Tone.” The set closes with a relaxed version of “Triste.”

Stephen Smith’s new recording is an excellent introduction to the appealing singer who is well worth discovering.

Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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