Admittedly, there’s something about the bassoon – maybe the name – that seems to make people smirk a little. And an album titled The Swingin’ Bassoon might elicit a chuckle — after all, when I picked it up I thought it said Swingin’ Baboon. But this new release from bassoonist Daniel Smith on the ZahZah label deserves serious treatment, or at least a good listen.
Everybody has heard of the bassoon, and most probably have a pretty good idea of what it looks like too. They might even know one when they hear it — or maybe not. (It’s been described as sounding like a cross between a trombone and a saxophone, but if you’re really curious there are samples available on the artist’s website, or at Allmusic.)
If you are a little better acquainted with the instrument than the average person, you might know that Daniel Smith is one of the most accomplished soloists around. He’s a talented performer with a rich background in classical music, but has made it his mission in recent years to bring the bassoon to a wider audience. With that in mind, he’s gone in new directions – especially jazz – and his newest album, The Swingin’ Bassoon, reflects that continuing commitment.
It’s mostly a collection of traditional jazz standards reworked for Smith’s instrument, and it follows his success with 2006’s Bebop Bassoon, which did the same for a number of bebop classics. Here he’s accompanied by the same talented musicians, including pianist Martin Bejerano, bassist John Sullivan, and Cuban percussionist Ludwig Afonso.
I love old jazz standards and even though the bassoon sound is very different from what I’m accustomed to hearing, I found myself enjoying this album a lot. For one thing, it cleverly opens with Tommy Dorsey’s theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” which is a good choice since it eases us into the sound of a bassoon in a song famous for a trombone lead. That paves the way for later tunes where Smith’s bassoon subs for more widely varied instruments.
As I listened to the album, I found that I was enjoying the anticipation before each cut, wondering how the sound of a bassoon would impact the mostly familiar tunes. Some translated better than others. For example, Dizzy Gillispie’s “Night In Tunisia” was a perfect fit for the instrument, probably the best of the album, and especially notable for strong work by bassist Sullivan and drummer Afonso.
Another of my favorites was “Summer Samba,” a Latin tune that I’d be willing to bet has never before been performed on bassoon. It turns out to be a great fit, as were most of the selections. About the only one that didn’t work for me was Ellington’s immortal “Mood Indigo,” which just never seemed to smooth out and flow like conventional treatments of the song.
A fascinating and different experience for jazz lovers. Try the samples and see what you think, but as for me, I have a new appreciation for the bassoon — and yes, it can swing.
1. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You
2. Well You Needn’t
3. Hay Burner
4. Scrapple from the Apple
5. Mood Indigo
6. Summer Samba
7. Out of Nowhere
8. St. Thomas
9. I Remember You
10. Home at Last
11. Night in Tunisia