If there’s a case to be made for featuring the bassoon in a jazz ensemble, bassoonist Daniel Smith (now out with his fifth jazz album) is probably the one to make it. And while the album, Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues, has a lot that is positive going for it, whether it makes that case is open for real debate.
The positives: the album has a killer set list highlighting a dozen classic blues tunes. Moreover Smith’s base quartet—pianist Robert Bosscher, bassist Michael O’Brien, and drummer Vincent Ector—live up to the ‘smokin’ hot’ epithet of the album’s title in spades. Add to that the participation of a gaggle of stellar guest artists who deliver some of the best work on the disc. One would think Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues couldn’t miss.
Unfortunately, there is one negative: and that is the bassoon. Too often the bassoon is lukewarm, instead of ‘smokin’ hot.’ There are times when Smith’s solo work seems labored and forced. It is almost as though he is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Indeed, when you hear the bassoon in relation to some of the solo playing of the guest artists, Greg ‘Organ Monk’ Lewis’ work on Jimmy Smith’s “Back at the Chicken Shack” or guitarist Ron Jackson on “Moanin’,” the weakness of the bassoon seems to be emphasized.
The album opens inauspiciously with a somewhat stilted version of “Night Train,” which in some sense presages the problem that haunts the rest of the album. The less well-known “Hummin’” works better, perhaps because it is less well known, and so raises fewer expectations. There are a couple of Ray Charles tunes—“What’d I Say” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So”—with Frank Senior doing the vocals. And while Senior is okay, he’s not Ray Charles. Lewis again does excellent work on Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” the kind of work that makes you want to hear a lot more from him.
So then, if there is a case for the bassoon in the jazz ensemble, Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues isn’t it.