Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Only the most sensitive and responsive of musicians can make quietude roar. On their stunning duet album, Lotus Blossom (May 20, 2014, The American Jazz Institute/Capri), two venerated veteran stylists, the pianist Jeff Colella and the bassist Putter Smith, communicate in muted tones that nonetheless pack a punch. Blending exquisite readings of choice standards and jazz originals, the album reasserts the timeless power of spontaneous music-making that places invention above virtuosity, empathy above individual showboating. As imaginative as it is expressive, Lotus Blossom can take its place with such piano-and-bass masterpieces as Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden's Jasmine, Haden and Hank Jones's Steal Away, and the vaunted duo recordings of Jimmy Rowles and Ray Brown.

Lotus Blossom has been a long time in coming. Colella - a highly respected West Coast keyboardist who has had significant musical associations with Lou Rawls, Jack Jones and Stacey Rowles - and Smith, a musician's musician best known for his work with Alan Broadbent, Mose Allison and Mark Masters (and with James Bond fanatics for his role as the assassin, "Mr. Kidd," in the 1971 film, Diamonds Are Forever) have been playing together informally for the better part of the past two decades. Recent work as a duo at Vibrato, a Bel Air area club, stoked their interest in recording together.

Lotus Blossom was consciously conceived as a compact (under one hour) and cohesive set of music. Although not specifically intended as a tribute album to associates and musical influences that have passed, the album does have an elegiac feel that is borne out in the deeply emotive playing of the co-leaders and in the choice of affecting material. Three pieces are associated with the legendary pianist Bill Evans: the Evans original, "Time Remembered," the Michel Legrand-authored ballad, "You Must Believe In Spring" and "All Blues," one of the hallmark tracks from the epochal Miles Davis album, Kind Of Blue. Smith's suggestive original, "Desert Passes," the guitarist Larry Koonse's moody "Candle" and the Ray Noble classic "The Very Thought of You" all allow the lyrical qualities that both players share to fully emerge. The two concluding tracks actually are dedicatory in nature: Colella's lovely, "Gone Too Soon" calls to mind fellow musicians that left us prematurely, while Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom" references Jimmy Rowles and his daughter Stacey (who passed in 2009), who, when working together, would always end their sets with this gorgeous tune.

Throughout, Colella and Smith meld together indivisibly, their mutual communication and insistence that expression supplant instrumental prowess, remaining paramount. "The music has needs of its own, outside of our interpretation," Colella states. "Virtuosity has to emerge organically from the music, it can never be forced. Technique must always serve the music - it can't be imposed on it." With Lotus Blossom, Colella and Smith remind us that, when it comes to music, respect reaps rewards.

Jeff Colella has worked with a panoply of instrumentalists and singers including Lou Rawls, Jack Jones, Anita O'Day, Eric Von Essen, Sheila Jordan, Bob Sheppard, Larry Koonse, Frank Potenza and Diane Schuur, and is a faculty member at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. http://jeffcolella.com/

In addition to his work with such jazz masters as Art Pepper, Ray Charles, Carmen McRae and a host of others, Putter Smith is currently on the faculty of the Bass Institute of Technology in Los Angeles and the author of the method book, "Jazz Bass Improvisation." 

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