Mike Madriaga 12:34 p.m., Dec. 18
Anthony Smith CD release party at 98 Bottles
The vibraphonist led a stellar sextet celebrating his new music in front of a sold-out house.
Vibraphonist Anthony Smith celebrated the CD release of two new discs on April 27 at 98 Bottles, leading an all-star sextet with pianist Mike Wofford, flutist Holly Hofmann, guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Danny Weller and drummer Duncan Moore through two sets of highly intricate music before a standing-room-only crowd.
Smith is an excellent player who draws inspiration from Bobby Hutcherson primarily, although one can also hear the influence of Gary Burton, Milt Jackson and Joe Locke in his improvisations.
Weller and Wofford opened "Blues For Bobby," with a sly swagger as Moore joined in with swirling brushes. Smith and Sprague laid out the complex, loping head, yielding to a round-robin of solos, beginning with the leader, whose two-mallet attack often dissolved into a blur. Sprague approached things with a nimble velocity, sneaking in a quote from Wayne Shorter's "The Witchdoctor," before Hofmann's pure tones and wicked bent notes sewed it up.
"Samba De Pequeninos," began with a gorgeous Sprague introduction filled with supple voice-leading and "harp-harmonics." The tune itself seemed to be inspired by Chick Corea, as it had tons of tricky unisons. After a typically virtuosic Sprague solo, Hofmann demonstrated a real affinity for the Brazilian groove with a highly rhythmic approach.
"You Don't Know What Love Is," was radically reharmonized and seemed to alternate between an odd-time ostinato and a swing groove in four. Wofford took a luxuriant turn on the changes, making the venue's tiny piano sound like a Steinway in the process.
The delicate beauty of Alec Wilder's "Blackberry Winter," was a definite highlight, offering up a breathtakingly lyrical Wofford spot and Weller's deliberate essay, which made each note count.
Sometimes, Smith's penchant for the complex got the better of him, like his drastic re-tooling of "The Song Is You," which kind of sagged under the weight of its own ambition -- even the amazing dexterity of the contrafact he superimposed on top of it bordered on the pedantic for me -- although that's probably just a personal perspective.
The ever youthful songbird Kevyn Lettau took the stage for a slinky arrangement of "I've Got You Under My Skin," pulling at the form like saltwater taffy before launching into her very wordy, Joni Mitchell-ish original "What Is Enough?" with Sprague and Smith following her like shadows.
Smith's new CD's are now available, go to anthonysmithcreations.com for more information.
Photo by Teena Singh