Dusted Reviews

Tab Smith - Crazy Walk

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Tab Smith

Album: Crazy Walk

Label: Delmark

Review date: Aug. 24, 2004

Delmark’s stature as repository of Chicago’s rich musical heritage owes much to its judicious custodial upkeep of many of the city’s classic labels. The crown jewel among its various subsidiary holdings is the United Records catalog, an imprint widely regarded as the first African American-owned record company. Saxophonist Tab Smith was United’s most prolific talent, waxing just shy of a hundred sides over roughly seven year tenure. Crazy Walk comprises the fourth and final installment in Delmark’s reissue series of Smith’s United corpus. In line with its predecessors, the disc has some potent music etched into its silvery magnetic rings, though the title is a bit of a misnomer.

Smith’s saxophones pull in a clutch of impressive influences. His alto draws inspiration from Johnny Hodges’ rabbit soft phrasing blending it with personalized vestiges of Benny Carter’s piquant style of inflection. On tenor, Smith relies on the tonic of Lester Young’s feathery dry tone tempered with a dollop of Coleman Hawkins’ sass. Assimilation of these major league peers parlayed into high profile stints in the bands of Count Basie, Lucky Millinder and Teddy Wilson. His dues paying done, Smith founded his own combo in the mid-’40s favoring light cocktail swing and the then nascent sounds of R&B and jump blues.

The tracks included originate from a slightly different source in that they trade piano for organ-led accompaniment. Jimmy Smith’s big bop splash at Small’s Paradise in Harlem had yet to ripple far and wide so it’s old school organ here, much in line with what might accompany the zamboni at the local skating rink. Heels heavy on sustain pedals and ample use of melodramatic volume swells are telltale signs of the sides’ age, but organist Sam Malone still slips in a few odd surprises, as during his hard stomping drone intro to “Spider’s Web.” Another sign of the times surfaces in the lush patina of reverb that frequently laces Smith’s horns (cue in on preening echo of “Pretend” for an extreme example). All 24 tunes are jukebox-sized, lifted mainly from 78 pressings that sound surprisingly good for their age. Smith-penned numbers alternate with various pop and jazz standards and the majority roll out as simple riffing vehicles for his nimble, if often cursory, melodic peregrinations.

The various rhythm sections employed by Smith, both identified and not, do little to distinguish themselves. Most of the time they’re yoked to safe slow-to-medium tempos and only infrequently step up for more than polite unobtrusive support. Several tracks like “Just One More Time” and a ripping take on the Tizol/Ellington evergreen “Caravan” enlist additional horns to further embellish the ensemble sound. A few others incorporate the vibrato-heavy croon of one Ray King to vary the pace, but the constricted lengths of the cuts effectively curb any attempts at extended excitement. Through it all the klieg lights predictably situate centrally on Smith.

I’m probably not doing the best job accentuating this disc’s strengths, but if your tastes can accommodate the antique trappings that go along with Smith’s musings, there’s plenty of easygoing blowing to go around. The earlier volumes in the series are also worth a gander since they dispense with some of the schmaltz and visit the saxophonist in straighter swing settings.

By Derek Taylor

Read More

View all articles by Derek Taylor

Find out more about Delmark

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.