Interestingly, Tom Graf is strictly a songwriter, plays not a single instrument here nor sings, but, aside from penning the multiple levels necessary to this silk-smooth chart jazz, he also knows how to put together some great ensembles, each well adjusted to the demands of the various cuts. Smokin' is solidly in the Bob James / Sade / Yellowjackets / Simply Red era wherein this style came alive again after the old CTI / Kudu / etc. heydays a few decades ago. There are also some elements of the European enamorment with the style, the kind of sounds heard from Joachim Kuhn, Jasper van't Hof, Mezzoforte, and that ilk.
The style has been abused, I hafta admit (hmmmmm, lessee now, who could I possibly be thinking of??? Kenny G? Yanni? and a truckload more?), but when it's done right, as when Grover Washington, Hank Crawford, Chuck Mangione, and a benchmark stable of masters tackled the groove, then, man, nothin' but righteous sounds! That's Graf's zone as well. And he knows his tango, samba, and swing from his ballads, World, and torch songs, every cut distinctive, Changes particularly cool, crossing the borders from gypsy to lounge to dive rave, David K. Matthews (piano), Rich Kuhn (accordion), and Harvey Wainaple (clarinet) like a transcontinental trio within the sextet.
Then Amikaeyla tips in the torchy element with a voice as fine as any top of the charts chanteuse, slinkily sliding through two cuts like fine wine judiciously poured. Graf and arranger Matthews resist all temptations to go over the top with her lines or with anythng else, crafting instead long sleek narratives filled with night delights and Vegas noir. I was pointedly ensorcelled by Mike Olmos' horn work (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Elena Pinderhughe's flute, the latter of which has become all too rare in jazz nowadays, no? Oh how we pine for the days of Herbie Mann, Dave Valentine, Charles Lloyd, and then the wilder shores of James Newton and such. Sigh! But worry not, as Smokin' will soon be dispellin' your wistfulness, replacing it with sweet melancholy of another order.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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