Posts Tagged ‘Michael-Louis Smith’

BEST OF 2013: J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part I

Monday, December 16th, 2013

By J Hunter

One of the “problems” with doing this thing on the radio – “Jazz2K” is also broadcast from 6-8pm on Tuesdays on WSPN (91.1FM), including this Tuesday’s (December 17) Best of 2013 edition – is that I have 60 or 70 discs to consider instead of 20 or 30. Whoever said, “Be careful what you wish for…” had a good point. Anyway, with the brand-new chainsaw I got for our anniversary (Thanks, honey! Love ya bunches!), I was able to cut the pile down to a Top 10 and eight outstanding “Honorable Mentions.” Let’s get the Honorables out of the way first – mainly because I need to get those bowling trophies off the mantle so we can hang the Festivus decorations:

PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND – That’s It!LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD:
PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BANDThat’s It! (Legacy)
Their performance at Freihofer’s felt like Saturday night during Mardi Gras, as opposed to the “jazz funerals” they’ve staged in the past. And it’s all thanks to That’s It, Preservation Hall’s first-ever all-originals release. Maybe My Morning Jacket’s Jim James produced the session, but there’s an Old School echo to the 11 studio tracks that makes them seem like gems from NOLA’s marvelously shady past. Even live takes on “Oh Liza” and “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing” jump around like newborn colts. This righteous set is Preservation Hall’s message to “modern” marchers like Rebirth and Dirty Dozen: “Pump the brakes, youngsters! We ain’t dead YET!”

CLIFF HINES – WanderlustROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
CLIFF HINESWanderlust (Self-released)
Some members of Preservation Hall have ties that are older than this fellow Big Easy resident. That said, multi-instrumentalist Cliff Hines really gets his his Marco Benevento on, with an eclectic assortment of musical styles and cinematic takes on everything from Tehran’s Green Revolution and the Fukushima meltdown to the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. Bewitching vocalist Sasha Masakowski is the not-so-secret weapon in this intricate tapestry, as Hines plays Second Line one moment, Indian raga the next, and quotes William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” while mashing up jazz and thrash. Wanderlust is truly addictive. More, please!

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LIVE: Michael-Louis Smith Quintet @ A Place for Jazz, 11/15/13

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
Michael Louis Smith and Stacy Dillard

Michael Louis Smith and Stacy Dillard

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.

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LIVE: Michael-Louis Smith @ The Linda, Albany, 6/14/13

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Michael Louis Smith

Michael Louis Smith

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

Michael-Louis Smith has come a long way from when he was doing landscaping jobs as a Saratoga County teenager. In fact, it’s fair to say the guitarist has pretty much graduated from the Greater Nippertown jazz scene: The SUNY Purchase alum has been making music in New York City for quite a while now, and he and his band First Black Nation spent last year backing Nigerian funk/soul singer Nneka on a world tour. All that said, Smith had no problem bringing his latest release First Black Nation back home so family, friends, and fans could check it out.

First Black Nation isn’t just a showcase of Smith’s razor-sharp quintet, although his partners do get to display their formidable skills as individuals and as a unit. The music was inspired – or, in Smith’s words, “affected” – by the devastating earthquake that struck the island nation of Haiti in 2010. While introducing the music (which Smith described as “one long song”), Smith talked about listening to NPR reports on the quake and its horrific aftermath, and how the only way to deal with his feelings of horror and helplessness was to express those feelings in music. “Some of the songs are kind of dark,” Smith allowed, a sheepish smile on his face. “It’s hard to play for a fun-loving audience.”

Given the vivacious music Smith and his partners – bassist Diallo House, drummer Ismail Lawal and pianist Victor “Baby Boy” Gould – laid on us for the first half-hour, it was hard to conceive of Smith playing anything that’s even remotely dark. From the opening chords of “Up in the Air,” Smith entranced us with a hollow-body sound that was as tight as it was joyous. There are great ideas in Smith’s solos, but it’s the brightness of it all that really hits you in the face. And he’s not just up there aping Pat Martino or Les Paul: The tricky “Ghosts” evokes the globe-spanning sounds of D’Gary and Lionel Loueke, and the not-quite-a-ballad “Gone” has moments that echo John Scofield. Smith’s writing and arranging are truly impeccable, but it’s his willingness to take the hollow-body vibe to places where it doesn’t usually go that makes it art.

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