Richard Smith – Flow
by J. Barrett
Richard Smith is a busy man. “More than just natural ability, I’ve built my career on the ethic of very hard work.” After ten years with Richard Elliot and active touring (Kirk Whalum, Marc Antoine, etc.) he called off his sideman activities. He also took a sabbatical from USC, where he heads the guitar department. Free to create, he serves up a nice blend of smooth tunes, happy horns, tangy licks, and a few surprises. ” My eyes were on the vibe of the collection as a whole,” and he’s right – it flows very well.
The percussion pops; the synth forms a soft cushion. Smith gently brings forth the theme of “Flow” – effortless notes that turn into octaves. Listen for a nice rhythm guitar part overdubbed by Smith, and for lush piano in Tim Redfield’s brief solo. It’s a pleasant thought and a peaceful morning – which hardly prepare us for “Milestones”! The Miles classic opens with an edgy vamp, trebly organ, and Wes octaves on the theme. Sean Holt’s soprano talks in counterpoint to Smith. The sweet octaves sound great on the solo, as organ and bongo go beneath. Holt adds a drone, and too soon it’s over. Save this for the highlight reel.
“Drive Time” keeps the organ and adds a dash of funk. A tinny drum machine adds to the flavor, as do the fat bass and slow tenor. Smith is warmer here, gradually deepening blues as the backing gets thicker. Holt doesn’t solo but his filigrees really help. “Love Looks Without Eyes” is late-night R&B, the Wes tone drifting amid zooming bass and trilling synth masquerading as a flute. The solo flits between single-string and octaves, tenderness and blues. A little soft if you ask me, but that problem is quickly solved.
“Take That!” brings a non-nonsense bass, and Eric Marienthal. The sax is more active than most tracks, and Marienthal has a nice gritty solo; it stays close to theme but it gets the job done.For most of the track Smith is spare and gentle; with the busy rhythm it might play too safe. Near the end he speeds up, rolling notes with his blues tone. That’s it; I would have liked more of this. But that’s not all: we have room for another surprise.
“I’m probably the only musician I’ve known who’s crazy enough to cover both a Miles Davis tune and a Kenny G song on the same album!” Mr. Gorelick is represented by “Pastel”, which gets the expected treatment at top. Splashy synths bring in the theme, and Smith brings a classical sound to the fore, with the slightest hint of flamenco. Then the funk starts. The bass is hard and the synth harder. Smith gets some force, his blues giving way to octaves. This works much as “Milestones” does, for a similar reason. Neither tune is done as you’d expect — and that’s a good thing.
The night groove returns on “When the Soul is Smiling”, a light guitar snaking through the organ bed. A busy moment matches his solo on “Take That!”, and the band is luscious. Redfield sparkles on his tiny solo, a surprisingly broad sound. And “Mix It Up” reprises the nice sound of “Flow” – dappled organ, fuzz bass, and punching horns. Smith is his bluesiest, and it’s a tasty morsel. It caps a strong album on the funkier side of smooth, nice tunes married to an attractive guitar. If it sounds good to you, you might go with the flow.
Rating: *** ½. I like “Flow”, “Milestones”, “Take That!”, “Pastel”, and “Mix It Up”.
Songs: Flow; Milestones; Drive Time; Love Looks Without Eyes; The Great North; Take That!; Pastel; When the Soul is Smiling: Mix it Up.
Musicians: Richard Smith (guitar); Sean Holt (soprano and tenor saxes); Dave Ryan (trombone); Tim Redfield (keyboards, programming); Larry Antonino (bass); Steve Reid (percussion); Eric Marienthal (tenor sax on “Take That!”).
For more info, contact the Heads Up Records Web Site.