Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies – Fortune Songs (2012)

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Christchurch, New Zealand’s Jasmine Lovell-Smith at first followed her opera singer mother’s footsteps, until she fell in love with jazz in high school, and the saxophone has been her primary instrument ever since. Acquiring a Bachelor of Music degree in jazz saxophone performance and composition in 2006 and invited to participate at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in 2008, Lovell-Smith made her way to that epicenter of jazz activity, New York, in 2010.

Since then, she’s been playing in three ensembles: the sextet “Common Wealth” that she co-leads with saxophonist Angela Morris, a world/folk/improv trio collective Pangaea, and her own group, the Towering Poppies. She assembled her quintet with North Americans who are all similarly young and eager to make their own marks: Russell Moore on trumpet, Cat Toren on piano, Patrick Reid on standup bass and Kate Pittman on drums. Tomorrow Lovell-Smith’s Towering Poppies will issue their first album Fortune Songs.

The eight Lovell-Smith originals that make up Fortune Songs don’t overheat with hard bopping numbers but rather, kept to a slow to mid-tempo cadence. That’s a tribute of the reflective nature of these songs, opting to subtly evoke moods in a thoughtful, deliberative manner, falling into the advanced modern area of the jazz spectrum. Lovell-Smith’s euphonious soprano sax affirms her vocal beginnings, enunciating her notes in a flow similar to a singer. The rest of the band seem to buy into her vision wholeheartedly, using their skills not to show off, but to bring out all the facets of her songs, of which there are many.

Lovell-Smith isn’t afraid to take chances with her composing and her arrangements of those songs (she self-produced this album). The tactic she employs on “Darling I Listen” and “Confidence (Two)” (YouTube below) shows this: the melodies stream forth in a natural way untethered to tempo, à la Ornette’s “Lonely Woman,” with the bass moved to the front line and the drums set free from timekeeping. On “Let Go Be Free,” Reid’s bass is made an equal partner with Toren’s piano in fleshing out the song’s harmony. For “Seven Of Swords,” Lovell-Smith and Moore appear to be playing the melody at half the pace as Pittman’s drums, suggesting an underlying restlessness underneath the serene surface. “A Nest To Fly” contains interesting, sometimes unexpected chord changes that always resolve logically; Pittman’s polyrhythms on this song in a discreet way play a prominent part in bolstering it.

A debut album is an occasion for the artist to stop and marvel at the accomplishment, especially since Lovell-Smith has from the start set out to establish her own complex identity on this album, not an easy thing to do on the first time out. But she’s not even thinking of slowing down: this fall she will begin studies toward a Master of Arts in Composition at Wesleyan University, where she’ll be studying under Anthony Braxton. Since she is coming in with an already advanced concept of jazz, it will be worth tracking her development as she learns from this master of jazz at its most advanced. Stay tuned. In the meantime, Fortune Songs provides plenty of proof that she’s already come a ways.

Fortune Songs goes out on sale August 14, by Paintbox Records. Visit Jasmine Lovell-Smith’s website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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