Melvin Smith, Perseverance Review
by Jeff Becker
Melvin Smith, an accomplished saxophonist, arranger, and composer, continues to showcase his adaptability and deep love for jazz in his latest release, Perseverance. Known for his ability to effortlessly merge the sacred and secular in music, Smith presents a project that showcases his spiritual, intellectual, and musical depth. The album’s central theme revolves around the idea of honoring the past while simultaneously building toward a musically enriched future.
The aptly titled Perseverance begins with the vibrant “Sound for Sore Ears,” a Jimmy Heath original that sees Smith and his quartet effortlessly mimic the ebullience and rhythm of this joy-filled track. The vivacious saxophone notes set a welcoming tone for the album, engaging listeners; Smith’s control over his instrument is undoubtedly displayed during his solo.
A distinct shift in rhythm is introduced with the second track, “Karita.” The Bobby Watson original is delivered with a Latin jazz twist that adds a refreshing unpredictability to the album. Smith’s saxophone rides the energetic organ and drumbeats with a seductive allure, drawing listeners into the magnetic sphere of his musical world.
Smith’s reimagining of the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” feels like a heartfelt nod to his faith and gospel roots. The traditional jazz arrangement imbues the song with a certain rawness, making it a captivating album highlight.
The saxophonist’s reverence for the jazz tradition is also palpable in “One by One.” The quartet’s interpretation of the Wayne Shorter tune pays homage to the spirit of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, demonstrating Smith’s deep respect for the jazz legends that came before him, which can be heard in his musical language during his solo as he weaves a straight-ahead jazz vocabulary with modern and post-bop phrases.
“Gettin’ It” and “Perseverance,” both Melvin Smith originals, display Smith’s innovative style. “Gettin’ It” brings a funky edge to the album, allowing Smith to demonstrate his unique ability to channel his soulful energy through his saxophone. Meanwhile, the title track, “Perseverance,” refers to the 1960s Classic Coltrane quartet, allowing Smith to demonstrate his tenacity and relentless dedication to his craft.
Smith’s ability to adapt and mold various musical styles continues with “Golden,” an adaptation of the popular Jill Scott song. Here, the organ trio brings a distinct flavor to the album, reshaping Scott’s music in a new and strangely familiar way. Again, Smith’s command of his instrument is brought to life in a unique rhythmic context and passion during his solo.
Finally, the album concludes with the full version of “Beatitudes,” a Bobby Watson composition that blends passion and intellect, leaving listeners to contemplate the depth of Smith’s artistry.
Perseverance finds Smith showing his skills as a versatile jazz musician, adept at fusing various styles and genres, all shaped by his diverse musical background and his unwavering dedication to his craft. Perseverance is a soulful and passionate tribute to his influences, showcasing Smith’s skillful blending of contemporary jazz with traditional influences as each track reveals the saxophonist’s individual musicality, his reverence for the jazz tradition, and his unique ability to make every piece his own. Perseverance, as a whole, truly embodies the spirit of devotion.