Nick Smart’s Trogon - Tower Casa
(Babel Label BDV 13129. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
I first heard trumpet player Nick Smart with Hans Koller's group alongside Toronto-born Kenny Wheeler (and Bob Brookmeyer) at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2007. At that point I was unaware that Smart was carving out a distinguished career in jazz education but, by the time I saw him next - in a big band at the Royal Academy of Music celebrating Wheeler's 80th birthday – he was a significant figure at the London conservatoire and an authority on the older man’s music.
Smart’s third album, Tower Casa, is with his sextet Trogon (named after the colourful, tropical bird depicted on the CD cover). Wheeler’s influence is inconspicuous but ever-present.
The first, title track is the only one composed solely by Smart, and - like most of the other six selections - its attractive melody and light Latin style are superficially undemanding. It soon becomes clear that there is greater depth and that a lot of work has gone into the arrangements. A device that is introduced early on, and that recurs throughout the recording, is the combination of Smart’s trumpet with the guitar of Chris Montague: it brings to mind the wondrous pairing of Wheeler’s horn with the wordless voice of Norma Winstone.
Todi or Not Todi, by pianist Kishon Khan, features an uncredited drone (apparently by tambura and presumably played by Montague), which fades away to reveal an episodic piece featuring excellent piano and trumpet solos. Drummer Dave Hamblett and percussionist Pete Eckford work hard on the complex, bustling beats.
Stan Sulzmann's Round The Round It All is more difficult to like. A diffuse opening for percussion and a kissing, hesitant trumpet is succeeded by a piano-led march. Despite smooth guitar work, it never settles into a groove and ultimately feels, to me, unfulfilled.
Kind Folk is one of Wheeler’s best melodies; Smart’s arrangement makes the rhythm spikier than usual, but the melancholy spirit remains. The longest and most satisfying track, Everybody Else’s Song, is credited to both Smart and Wheeler. It’s a thorough re-working of (Wheeler’s) Everybody's Song but My Own and includes a fine trumpet solo. There are several moments here – and on the beautiful ballad, Candela - when Smart’s phrasing, slurs and quicksilver lines are reminiscent of the Canadian in his 1970s heyday.
The closing MoTilda, a composition by Smart and Khan, develops a deep, insistent pulse. Montague's guitar has a harsher timbre than before, yet the tune retains a lightness of touch. Such airiness is echoed by Denny “Jimmy” Martinez's electric bass, and its fluidity and warmth are at the very heart of this set.
Tower Casa is an affectionate, subtle homage to one of the greatest jazzmen of our time.