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Sara P. Smith


This is a rare and precious record. Everything about it is out of the ordinary, so it's no wonder that the results are so unique.

I'll tell the story, such as I know it. There was a young musician, a female trombone prodigy, named Sara P. Smith.  She hung out and played with a circle of jazzbos, a number of whom went on to become respected and even celebrated figures in the jazz world. (One of those jazzbos is the producer of this record, Duke McVinnie--we'll come back to him. He produced a group called Logjam that featured Sara in the nineties.)

What eventually befell the young trombonist is a nerve disorder that crippled her in such a way that she was not able to play for many years, and to this day. (But surely there's more to any life than the trombone, you say. And though that would be a very inappropriate thing to say, you would, in this case, be right.) More than a decade later, after relentless effort and great blessings of some unseen power, Sara P. Smith was able to play a little piano. She decided she would try to write some songs.

And what songs they were. Songs unlike other songs. They were that most startling thing in the domain of should be popular music, original. (You hear that word thrown around a lot by songwriters, but mostly it's a near misnomer that means that they are simply the author.) The lyrics were whimsical and personal, inscrutable and self evident. The melodies were fantastic, like Ornette Coleman and Brian Wilson from one breath to the next.

So. At some point, Sara's old friend and former bandmate, Duke McVinnie, got wind of these songs, and was quite taken with them, to say the least. For a variety of reasons that included the fact that the artist was still in no condition to tour or perhaps even record the material in the manner to which he was accustomed, it came to his mind to do a record with many of his talented friends as a sort of tribute to the songs of Sara P. Smith. McVinnie is a veteran of many of his own records and assorted scenes that include the fabulous band Shivaree. He has also shown up in our pages as a member of Joan Baez's band, and a session man nonpareil for Annie Gallup and Martha Wainwright.

The real story is in the tracks, so buy this record! Sure, listen to the clips on the Listen page. You'll hear the otherworldy contributions of vocalists like Martha Wainwright, Ambrosia Parsley, and Erik Della Penna, great string arrangements by cellist Jane Scarpantoni, rare piano magic and vocalizing by Ed Pastorini ("Laughing And Basketball," wow...), and a long list of deeply gifted musicians.

Some records are much more amazing than others. This is the first kind. • Frank Goodman

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