Putting Cincinnati on the map
Reviewed October 2006
Red and Orange
By The Steve Schmidt Trio
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Pianist Steve Schmidt is among those unsung heroes in the jazz world who have cultivated their craft beyond the limelight of the major music centers.
For three decades, Schmidt has been a mainstay in Cincinnati. For many years, he served as the house pianist at the Blue Wisp, backing such visiting luminaries as Eddie Harris and Joe Henderson. In the liner notes to "Red and Orange," fellow pianist Fred Hersch refers to Schmidt as the premier Cincinnati pianist. That's quite an assertion considering Hersch may be the finest pianist the Queen City has produced. Hersch states that whenever he makes it back to his hometown, he looks up Steve and ribs him about not having his own recording out. Finally, Schmidt's done it.
While he has appeared as a sideman on a few records, "Red and Orange" is Schmidt's first recording as the headliner. He makes the most of the opportunity in this self-produced effort recorded in New York. Shrewdly, Schmidt enlisted the support of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Jeff Ballard, both widely sought.
In his notes, Schmidt explains his concept of the trio idiom as a conversation, which is readily apparent throughout "Red and Orange." Whereas the temptation on a first album would be to engage in an exercise in technical prowess, Schmidt spurns extravagance in favor of symmetry and thematic development.
That's not to downplay Schmidt's virtuosity nor his vigor as evidenced by his rousing renditions of Wes Montgomery's "West Coast Blues" and the Bernice Petkere/Joseph Young collaboration, "Lullaby of the Leaves," both spiced by Ballard's peppery attack.
Schmidt encourages dialogue among his cohorts through an uncanny dynamic of melodic and rhythmic crosscurrents that recalls Ahmad Jamal, as evidenced on the title piece, a boldly percussive restyling of "Autumn Leaves" and "Monkysides," another Schmidt original on which Thelonious Monk's "Straight No Chaser" meets "Sunny Side of the Street."
In contrast, Schmidt demonstrates a penchant for writing songs, such as "Forgiveness," "Bon Air" and "Anthem," that are so melodic they sound as if they were written for lyrics. He does a buoyant rendition of trumpeter Tim Hagans' intricate waltz "For the Music" and, shedding his trio mates, renders a caressing, wistful version of the Mack Gordon/Harry Warren standard "I Wish I Knew."
Throughout "Red and Orange," Schmidt delivers an eloquent exposition in the art of jazz piano trio, displaying the depth, lyricism and swing that embody his playing. While this effort should put an end to Hersch's joshing, one can only hope there is more to come.
Review by Michael J. Williams. Michael is a San Diego-based writer and editor.