by Elberton Cisnero
Hughes Smith Quintet is a Detroit based ensemble that has that hard-bop Detroit sound deep within their bones. The leaders Jimmy Smith on trumpet and James Hughes on saxophone offer up a muscular sound that traverses the long-standing standard of excellence in the hard bop idiom, while carving out their sound within its structure. Joined by Phil Kelly on piano and Fender Rhodes, Takashi Iio on bass and Nate Winn on drums, this ensemble cooks, grinds and sizzles with a shimmering program of Smith and Hughes originals, all designed for maximum blowing and beautiful introspection.
“The Runaround,” is a funky piece that grooves and slinks with an infectious bassline, the hook is memorable with plenty of complexity. Hughes’ alto saxophone articulates flowing lines with terse edges that build and maneuver for a memorable solo. Smith has a warm and pleasing tone that builds upon motifs for an exciting listen.
“Sidamo,” is a burning tune, filled with intensity and intrigue. Band hits and accents add to the excitement of the tune, a change of rhythm after the opener allows for a comfortable swing to ensue that has a relaxed feel for Smith to shine, as the tension builds again Hughes brings forth his soprano saxophone with great result, his tone is exceptionally warm, which is very rare among soprano players. Another metric modulation once again adds textural interest and back to the signature line for a well-conceived tune.
One might to begin to think this ensemble is only capable of burners, until a stop on the track “Elizabeth,” would prove them wrong. Beautifully introspective and emotionally soothing, a ballad that offers the beauty of elongated lines, but underneath the complexities of a female persona, adds to the loveliness of the tune. Pianist Kelly adds to the trajectory of the tune, with a stunning solo, and the conversational lines of both Hughes and Smith supported by Iio and Winn who cement the overall ensemble sound, proves fruitful to a cohesive band experience that is tied together with brilliant musicality.
Motion is aptly titled; the ensemble exhibits a uniquely mature and musical sense of motion within their playing. The blending of each player who all exhibit strong musical statements are taken into a oneness of mind and thought, which creates a unique experience for the listener. This is certainly world-class playing any way you come at it. Well done, and well played.