Jazz Suite for Bassoon (CD review)

Daniel Smith, bassoon; The Caravaggio Ensemble; various musicians. Summit Records DCD 656.

According to Daniel Smith's Web site, "with his many critically acclaimed award-winning recordings and live performances, Daniel Smith is the most recorded bassoon soloist in the world, with a repertoire spanning music from jazz to classical and crossover. As the only bassoonist performing and recording in both jazz and classical, his unique career has been profiled in numerous publications; described as the 'Gerry Mulligan of the Bassoon' in the world of jazz, and the 'Rampal of the Bassoon' in classical music."

Smith tells us that in the mid Nineties, French jazz pianist Jacques Loussier, well known for his jazz arrangements of classical music, inspired his own pianist, Bruce Boardman, and him to try their own hand at redoing a few Baroque pieces for bassoon and jazz band. The success of these numbers led to several other selections on the present album, recorded some twenty years ago and remastered here. So the idea for the arrangements was neither new nor novel for Smith; the execution of the idea, however, is quite fetching, which is why, I suppose, we are getting the present disc in better-than-ever sound.

First up is Boardman and Smith's initial concept, Baroque Adaptations for Bassoon and Jazz Trio, featuring Smith on bassoon, Boardman on piano, Terry Davis on bass, and Martin Drew on drums. The adaptations include the Allegro from Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in B-flat; William Byrd's Pavan: The Earl of Salisbury; Henry Purcell's Air on a Ground Bass; Vivaldi's Largo from the Concerto for Bassoon and Strings in C major; and J.S. Bach's Badinerie from the Orchestral Suite No. 2.

Next up, we get a surprise. Having just presented Baroque music from a modern jazz ensemble, Smith gives us a few Scott Joplin rags from a Baroque ensemble, The Caravaggio. The musicians here are Smith on bassoon; Jonathan Still, piano; Paul Manley, violin; Boguslaw Kosice, violin; Kate Musker, viola; Justin Pearson, cello; and Michael Brittain, double bass. The Joplin numbers include "The Chrysanthemum," "The Easy Winners," and "Original Rags."

The final item on the program the Jazz Suite for Bassoon, an original composition in three movements by Steve Gray. It combines the flavors of both old and new, classical and modern. The musicians here are Smith, bassoon; Steve Gray, piano; Mitch Dalton, guitar; Jim Lawless, vibraphone; Roy Babbington, bass; and Mike Smith, drums. Gray has titled the movements "Allegro," Ballade," and "Finale."

Daniel Smith
One can easily understand why fans love Smith's bassoon playing. The emotional impact alone should convince any listener of the man's talent, whether it's classical or pop tunes he's playing. The only drawback might be that this kind of crossover material may not appeal to diehard classical or jazz fans, both of whom could reject it as not being "pure" enough. I dunno. For me, it just sounded enjoyably laid-back, no matter what one calls it.

I've always thought of the bassoon as being to the reeds what the cello is to the strings. That is, it has a wonderfully mellow tone and can easily convey the nuances of the human voice. Therefore, the instrument sings most naturally and pleasantly, and Mr. Smith exploits these qualities throughout his playing.

The opening suite of Baroque tunes offers mostly relaxed, atmospheric interpretations that go a long way to soothe the soul. Oddly, I found the Joplin numbers a bit more disconcerting played by a classical ensemble than I did the Baroque material played by a jazz group. Be that as it may, after making a few mental adjustments, the listener should be able to enjoy the music, which again sounds easy and comfortable rather than fast or shrill. The closing jazz suite is really the only thing on the program approaching actual jazz, again laid-back, easygoing, and agreeable.

My only real complaint: The album's too short. At just over forty minutes it hardly gets started than it's over. I know we're looking at quality over quantity here, but still, for a program that makes some gestures toward the classical field, the classical listener probably expects more.

Daniel Smith produced the album in 1995-97 in London and engineer Tom Lazarus remastered it at StadiumRed Studios, New York City in 2015. I can see why the producers wanted to remaster the album; the sound is quite good. It's somewhat close-up, though, in a typically pop-recording style. But it's nicely defined, especially the low end, which has a crisp bite and taut definition, and the high end, which shows good extension. The bassoon rings out mellifluously, and the other instruments appear well defined as well, in a smooth, round manner. While the ensembles do sound close, as I say, there is plenty of air and space around them, with a warm ambience and a nice spacing for depth. The recording shouldn't disappoint anyone.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa