by Sylvannia Garutch
Guitarist and composer Perry Smith is originally from California, but now calls Brooklyn New York his home. Smith received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Flora L. Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California and completed his master’s in music at New York University. His playing style combines the tradition of jazz with other influences from R&B, rock, and folk to create his sound that is conveyed with a warm jazz box sound. Smith leads his own groups and is a sideman for several jazz and contemporary artists. He is also a founding member of the critically acclaimed New West Guitar Group, which has been performing internationally for 10 years. Smith also hosts a weekly series in Brooklyn called “The Nest Session,” performing with a different group of musicians every Wednesday, generously supported by a grant from KeyedUp.org in conjunction with the Jazz Foundation of America. New Angel is Smith’s debut of his new quintet, which features saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Allan Mednard. While they’ve all played together in a variety of contexts, Smith’s decision to bring together this group stems directly from their shared experiences at Nest Sessions jams, giving this band a nice energy and communicative approach to Smith’s music.
Following his two earlier quartet recordings, Stars and Cars (2009) and Street Sense (2013), he became drawn to composing for more voices, so the versatility offered by the combination of a guitar, piano and saxophone frontline became especially compelling. Smith found the specific possibilities offered by weaving his own voice with those of Irabagon and Zaleski, paired with the rhythmic imaginations of Aronoff and Mednard, especially thrilling. A great example of this is the melody to “Graceful Spirit.” With the various instruments playing lines that form a counterpoint dance of rhythms and colors.
The chemistry that is shared between the players is most evident on the opening track “Rise and Fall.” The compositions have shifting tempos and sound deceptively simple, but the mechanics of the tune is actually very complex. The band sound, and the playing is first-rate. Smith’s guitar and Irabagon’s saxophone blend seamlessly for the melody. Smith’s solo style is modern, but still steeped in the traditional jazz idiom. The most impressive aspect of Smith’s formidable technique is his ability to phrase and his use of breathes between those phrases. Very enjoyable listen.
New Angle reflects modern jazz with complex time signatures and harmony, but the band confronts its harmonic complexity and rhythmic angles in a natural way that makes the music seem much simpler than it is. This keeps in the tradition of jazz: players must push to explore something new while still trying to create something musical.