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Monday, April 2, 2012

Gary Smulyan

Smul's Paradise (Capri Records)

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From the opening number—the insistent, jumpy, lock-step strut of the Stevie Wonder hit “Sunny”—it's clear that Gary Smulyan's latest quartet offering is far from just another saxophone album. In fact, the baritone master (yep, that's baritone sax in a leading role) originally set out to pay tribute to the oft-overlooked organ-heavy Don Patterson, and he lands nicely on the mark with an album more in stride with Groove Holmes or a small Jimmy Smith combo than anything overly breathy or reedy.

Full of hard-swinging, dusty grooves, Paradise is a hodgepodge of two Patterson compositions, three originals (including standout cut “Blues for D.P.”) and an unerring vibe of smoky, late-night head-nodding. Guitarist Peter Bernstein's economical touch—ripe with gutsy, bluesy feel—shows he's an old pro of organ combos, while Smulyan's own breathless, tasty runs always stay just rooted enough in the get-down.

Kept chugging by Kenny Washington's drums and old-school by the Hammond B-3 plunkings of Mike LeDonne, the album approaches the consummate marriage of musical opposites: tightknit and laid-back. Paradise is also powerful proof, or maybe revelation, that the Soul Jazz of today can stay just as in-the-pocket as anything pored over by the Blue Note crate-diggers at your nearest record store.


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