Reviews that mention Paul Smoker

February 12, 2011

Lou Grassi Po Band

Live at the Knitting Factory Vol. 1 (with Marshall Allen)
Porter Records PRCD 4051

Nu Band

Live in Paris

NoBusiness Records NBCD 16

By Ken Waxman

Recorded almost exactly seven years apart, these high-class discs illuminate drummer Lou Grassi’s hard-hitting yet rhythmically sophisticated style in two advanced group contexts. At home with styles ranging from ragtime to free form, Grassi advances any project in tandem with other players, never drawing undue attention to himself.

A welcome document involving the drummer’s long-constituted – since 1995 – Po Band, Live at the Knitting Factory features flutist/saxophonist Marshall Allen, linchpin of the Sun Ra Arkestra, guesting with the 2000 version of the group. Besides Grassi, trumpeter Paul Smoker, trombonist Steve Swell and clarinettist Perry Robinson are featured along with the late bassist Wilber Morris. That same year, Grassi hooked up with three other mature players to form the Nu Band. Live in Paris, recorded in 2007, demonstrates the close cooperation which has allowed it to flourish. Although each Nu Band member is a leader in his own right – as are Po Band’s participants – the CD’s extended tracks demonstrate the group’s collegial if not musical harmony. Mercurial reedist Mark Whitecage and fiery brass man Roy Campbell have an ideal setting for their contrapuntal connections, while the drummer and solid bassist Joe Fonda – who plays in as many bands as Grassi – not only keep the music on an even keel, but solos impressively. MORE

July 26, 2004


CIMP #300

Home Speaks to the Wandering
Innova 593

By looking sideways for inspiration to sounds that encompass the brass band tradition, intricate African rhythms, plus hearty helpings of modern jazz and pure improv, two youngish bands have come up with noteworthy CDs that reconfirm eclecticism.

Stacked up next to one another though, JALOLU may have a slight edge over HOME SPEAKS TO THE WANDERING. That’s only because the Gambian and Ghanaian inspirations of drummer Harris Eisenstadt are less familiar than the outcome of many Dead Cat Bounce (DCB) compositions, whose voicings draw on sources like Charles Mingus and the World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ). MORE

February 16, 2004


Duocity in Brass & Wood
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1155/56

Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1
Drimala Records DR 03-347-03

Duo improvisations featuring a double bass and a horn are some of the hardest performances to realize. The challenge is compounded if the non-bass-playing partner only has a trumpet’s three valves and his embouchure with which to create. Thus Rochester, N.Y.-based trumpeter Paul Smoker should be complimented for sheer audacity. His double CD session of live, more than 60-minute duets with either Dominic Duval or Ed Schuller shows what can happen when two accomplished musicians strip down to the essentials and go at it with no preconceived notions. MORE

May 5, 2003


Extended Family
Tapestry 76004-2

Playscape PSR #JJ111601

Knowing you limitations and working within them can sometimes be a preferable method of creativity than letting your reach exceed your grasp. At least that’s what becomes clear listening to these two quartet discs, led by fine, but under-celebrated tenor saxophonists.

Denver-based Fred Hess, coordinator of jazz studies at Metropolitan Sate College, is the epitome of the journeyman reedman. Initially influenced by Lester Young, he modesty lists his “current saxophone heroes” as Joe Lovano, Rick Margitza, Bob Berg, Michael Brecker and the much younger Chris Potter. His background, which includes the formation of the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble with trumpeter Ron Miles, as well as work with everyone from ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker, mainstream bassist Ray Brown and avant trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, is easily the equivalent of those reedists. Plus his talents on tenor saxophone are equal if not superior to some of his “heroes”. MORE

January 2, 2003


9 Winds NWCD0263

Go Figure
9 Winds NWCD0231

Brass and strings figure prominently in these two discs recorded by experimenting musicians who fight the good fight for improv in cities like Chicago and Seattle, which move in and out of the jazz spotlight.

Yet sometimes it takes more than good intentions, good ideas and good technique to produce sessions that will resonate outside of a particular social and geographical area. Perhaps that’s why trumpeter Jim Knodle’s session ends up being disappointing while drummer Damon Short’s lives up to its promise MORE