Malcolm Earle Smith – Vocal Intent
(Self-released via Bandcamp. Album review by Leonard Weinreich)
Few jazz instrumentalists were consummate jazz vocalists, most notably Louis Armstrong (who invented the art), Fats Waller, Nat Cole and Louis Jordan. Among trombonists, quality warblers are even rarer, the most memorable being Jack Teagarden, James ‘Trummy’ Young and, the most commercially successful, Billy Eckstine.
But here’s a new contender: Malcolm Earle Smith, who sets his trombone aside to record a solely vocal album. Widely recognised as an arranger and educator with a deep knowledge of the jazz tradition, Earle Smith’s distinguished background had him also extending his slide alongside Kenny Baker, John Dankworth, Henry Lowther, Liam Noble, Hans Koller and the Bryan Ferry Jazz Orchestra.
Citing influences as diverse as Chet Baker, Tony Bennett, Anita O’Day and Eddie Jefferson, he started exercising his jazz tonsils in his twenties. Quizzed on his approach, he responds: “My vocal style owes much to my horn playing in terms of tone, phrasing and improvised lines. However, I feel that leaving my horn respectfully in its case has allowed me to explore my voice more fully…making a deeper connection between my scat singing and the mood of the song.”
His song selection involves nine standards (interestingly for this project, three titles contain the word ‘Dream’) and the seasoned jazz tutor is accompanied by four of his former Trinity Laban Conservatoire tutees: saxophonist Leo Richardson, pianist Chris Eldred, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Douglas Marriner, all graduates who toil at the British jazz rockface and whose support is never less than unstinting.
The group thrives on the snappier rhythms and, on all the pieces, Earle Smith’s arranging skills reveal fresh interest in familiar melodies. For instance, on the swing era workhorse, Stompin’ At The Savoy (ostensibly composed by a supergroup comprising Benny Goodman, Chick Webb and Edgar Sampson), Earle Smith introduces fresh harmonies and dissonances in the familiar theme. On the delightful Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams (by Harry Barris, Ted Koehler and Billy Moll) he rephrases the bridge in tight unison with tenor and piano. He scats enthusiastically through Charlie Parker’s Confirmation, a melodic rollercoaster, with stirring contributions from Richardson’s baritone and Marriner’s drums. On Just in Time, written by Julie Styne in collaboration with the remarkable team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the arrangement swings as Earle Smith artfully elides the lyrics. And, while Vincent Youmans, Harold Adamson and Mack Gordon intended Time On My Hands to be performed at stately tempo, Earle Smith and Co kick it into more of an effervescent strut propelled by muscular bass work.
A brave album full of unexpected rewards with crisp, clear sound recorded by Nick Taylor and mastered by Alex Bonney.
Vocal Intent is released on 22 April.
LINK: Vocal Intent on Bandcamp