Peter Smith Quartet,
Caliente & Cool
(self-produced, 1998)

On the day I reviewed Caliente & Cool by the Peter Smith Quartet, I heard the great "King of Latin Music," Tito Puente, had passed away. The kind of music that Tito brought to the forefront has inspired artists for the last half of the century, and should continue to do so into the new one. You can hear the salsa beats made famous by Puente on Peter Smith's album. While it was produced in 1998 and the music was recorded as far back as 1994, this CD is a testimonial and a fitting memorial to his influence. But enough about Tito -- this review is about Peter Smith.

For those of you Spanish-impaired readers, "caliente" means "hot" -- however, this half of the title was almost misleading when you listen to the music on this CD. Smith blends Latino salsa beats and sounds with the smoothness of jazz to create an interesting mix. While this CD may not be "hot," when it's cool, it's downright frigid. This is not music that reaches out and slaps your eardrums with harsh, brassy notes. Instead, it soothes you into a relaxing ride along many different tracks. The CD is a mix of hot and cold, transitioning between the two styles efficiently.

The group name, the "Peter Smith Quartet," is also a misnomer, as the only two recurring artists on this album are Smith and long-time partner Kevin Laliberte. Smith plays a slick B-flat saxophone and flute (as well as other woodwinds), while Laliberte accompanies with a talented acoustic and electric guitar. On the "hot" tracks, the two are joined by Rodrigo Chavez on congas and various percussion, plus the South American pan pipe and guitar, Drew Burston on bass and Peter Shea on drums. On the "cool" tracks, they are accompanied by Andrew Downing and Mike McClennan on upright bass and Scott Annandale on drums.

The "caliente" recordings were recorded in 1998, "live in the studio" with some later overdubs of percussion and guitar solos, while the "cool" tracks were unreleased older studio recordings. The tracks are all very light, and create visual images of impromptu jazz sessions in a nice lounge somewhere -- loud enough to be heard, but quiet enough to enjoy and have a conversation with someone. The standout tracks on this album are "Lucky Southern," "Untitled Ballad" and "Killer Joe" on the caliente side, and "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" and "But Beautiful" on the cool side.

I thoroughly enjoyed this CD -- it's the album you want to listen to when it's time to relax and listen to some great music without having to think about it. It makes the perfect accompaniment to a romantic meal, or inviting some friends over for a long chat. It will become the unobtrusive soundtrack to your life.

[ by Timothy Keene ]