Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Swingin’ Bassoon

The Swingin’ Bassoon
By Daniel Smith
Zah Zah

When you maintain a jazz blog, you get some random questions from distant places. Now, for those asking for a good jazz bassoon rendition of “Summer Samba” your answer is here. Indeed, many unusual instruments have found a place in jazz. Given the tradition of jazz oboe established by the likes of Yusef Lateef and Bob Cooper, let alone the more unlikely jazz bagpipes of Rufus Harley, it seems strange that there has been little jazz love for the bassoon until recently. Daniel Smith has been blazing that trail, as evidenced by his new CD The Swingin’ Bassoon.

It is on the swing standards that the bassoon best adapts to jazz, as on the opening track, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” It is particularly effective carrying the melancholy introduction. Smith proves an inventive improviser on his instrument, backed by an excellent rhythm section, including Martin Bejerano on piano and John Sullivan on bass, both veterans of Roy Haynes groups, as well as Cuban born Ludwig Afonso on drums.

“Hay Burner” is an easy swinging Basie standard that also well suits Smith’s bassoon, in an arrangement that retains the good humor and economy of the big band original. Again, Smith and Bejerano craft engaging solos in a pleasing mid-tempo workout.

Bop burners like “Scrapple from the Apple” offer a real challenge to the bassoon. (Charlie Parker remains a stiff test for any instrument.) Smith faces up to it pretty well, and Bejerano shows his bop chops well. However, it is on melodic swing standards, like “Mood Indigo,” that really match up well with Smith’s bassoon. The famous late night bluesy opening notes of the Ellington standard sound great here—it might be the showcase tune that best makes the case for the bassoon as a vehicle for jazz improvisation.

As for “Summer Samba,” it is actually one of the better up-tempo tunes on Bassoon. It might sound like a poppy (bordering on dated) song, but there are inventive solos from Smith, Sullivan, and Bejerano. It is followed by “Out of Nowhere,” which again proves a good fit as a mid-tempo tune with a good measure of moodiness. The same is true of “Home at Last,” a shrewd tune choice from the still under-appreciated Hank Mobley, inspiring some of Smith’s best soloing.

Bassoon is an unusual and entertaining set of small group swing. In all likelihood, it will not inspire an army of jazz bassoonists, but it does establish a good niche for Smith.