Melvin Smith,
(independent, 2007)

Portrait is gospel jazz. defines gospel jazz as "an emerging format" that blends elements of gospel, R&B, jazz, smooth jazz and worship music to "create a contemporary sound that is inspirational, passionate and musically complex."

Spiritual jazz, represented by the later works of John Coltrane, has existed for some time, however, and this genre seems to be supported by a similar motivation, although the music is more mainstream and less avant-garde.

There is no quickly discernable gospel influence here, except for the recognizable tunes of "Go Down Moses/Wade in the Water" and "We Shall Overcome." Other cuts with a gospel theme are the hymn "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," "Someday We'll All Be Free" and "Manasseh," who was the son of Joseph in the Bible. Smith mixes his own compositions with covers that also include a stately, 11-minute "God Bless the Child."

The sound here is mainstream, but it never descends into the blandness of smooth jazz. The Berklee College-educated Smith produced the CD himself, and although it is never jarring, he does not smooth out his soprano and tenor sax too much.

Reggie Pittman on trumpet and flugelhorn shares the leads with Smith on most of the tracks (I think the CD sleeve is wrong only listing him on three.) He and Smith do an excellent job of blending on melody lines. On all the nine tracks there is support from piano, bass and drums. There are short solos by different pianists throughout the CD, and Smith is also credited with piano overdubs.

Smith's solos are intricate and cerebral, yet there is an uplifting feel to the whole CD. Everything is done for a purpose, without noodling or slackness. If this is what gospel jazz is like, you can count me as a believer.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Dave Howell

17 January 2009

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