Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Although Michael-Louis Smith has officially graduated from the Greater Nippertown jazz scene, the talented guitarist’s enduring links to the Capital Region – and to his birthplace of Schenectady, in particular – are strong enough to grandfather him into A Place for Jazz’s annual local-artist show. Besides, between his springtime drop party at The Linda and the trio he brought to the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival’s Downtown BID Competition, Smith has definitely been around enough this year to re-acquaint him with the Local 518 scene. For this show, though, we got to experience the full MLS band, and that experience definitely left a mark.
And a mark would have to be made, as the closing show on APFJ’s always-too-short calendar is really the last time until April when area jazz fans will consider attending a show without asking, “How far is it? How cold is it? Is it going to snow?” The slight chill in the air was another reminder that climate change isn’t keeping winter away. But when Smith started his in-the-clear opening riff to “Up in the Air” and his cohorts literally slid into the tasty groove that pushes the tune, the approaching season went right down the memory hole – and a lid was put firmly on that hole when the tune turned on a dime and hit us with a big dose of sharp, blistering bop.
This group’s sound (both individually and collectively) is rooted in jazz tradition: Smith plays hollow-body guitar with minimal effects, Victor Gould’s crisp piano lines evoke early acoustic Herbie Hancock, and it’s not hard to hear Sonny Rollins in saxman Stacey Dillard’s massive attack. But their overall sound comes at you like a tailing curveball, bending your mental knees as the ball blows right by you and smacks into the catcher’s glove. Smith’s lines are high and taut, with none of the soft resonance associated with the hollow-body, and Dillard’s sensational forays outside the box take Rollins’ warm sound and add a level of complexity that is thoroughly modern and undeniably brilliant.