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Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio

Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio, The Hatch, Eardiston, Tenbury Wells, Worcs. 24/10/2017.

by Ian Mann

October 25, 2017


The sheer skill and vitality of the performances made for a memorable evening of music making that rose above the level of the merely ‘routine’.

Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio, The Hatch, Eardiston, Tenbury Wells, Worcs. 24/10/2017.

October’s Yardbird Arts event saw guitarist Remi Harris inviting the London based clarinettist Giacomo Smith to The Hatch for an evening of good natured music making.

Born in Italy, raised in upstate New York and now a fully professional jazz musician in the UK Smith is an interesting character with degrees in classical clarinet performance from the North American Universities of Boston and McGill (Montreal). He first moved to the UK to work in Boston University’s London Programmes administrative office but spent his evenings absorbing himself in the London jazz scene, playing with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians before eventually turning pro in 2013 and concentrating on the music full time.

Smith, who also plays alto and soprano saxophones, is perhaps most closely identified with the eight piece Kansas Smittys House Band, an increasingly popular attraction on the London jazz circuit and who are based at Kansas Smittys Jazz Bar on Broadway Market in Hackney. The band has released studio and live recordings and appeared at many of the UK’s leading venues and festivals.

When in Montreal Smith led the quintet Swing On The Square, a gypsy jazz ensemble featuring his clarinet playing alongside Simon Millert (trumpet), Damien Levasseur and Charles Frechette (guitars) and Conrad Good (double bass). This line up recorded a highly enjoyable eponymous album that Smith is still selling at gigs.

For tonight’s performance Harris had assembled an all star one off line up that included Bristol based guitarist Denny Ilett, a highly experienced and versatile musician who has performed with saxophonists Andy Sheppard, James Morton and Pee Wee Ellis plus the band Moscow Drug Club.

Double bassist Simon Smith, almost certainly no relation, is an experienced jazz and session musician based in the Midlands who has recently performed a number of gigs with Harris in a duo format.

Harris is a musician who just loves to play and tonight’s event had the casual feel of a gypsy jazz session with only the most minimal of amplification being used. Essentially the performance was all acoustic and despite the mist and murkiness of an Autumnal night in England it felt more like sitting around the camp-fire at Samois-sur-Seine at the annual Django Reinhardt Festival.

This was very different to the well choreographed shows given by Harris’ regular working trio featuring rhythm guitarist Caley Groves and double bassist Mike Green. The ad hoc nature of the ensemble made for a much more informal and spontaneous atmosphere with the set list being formulated ‘on the hoof’.

Thus it came as no surprise that the repertoire was mainly comprised of ‘Great American Songbook’ and gypsy jazz standards beginning with Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” which saw Giacomo Smith leading off the solos followed by Ilett and Simon Smith. After seeing many performances by Harris’ regular trio over the years, where rhythm guitar duties are shouldered exclusively by Groves, it was unusual to see Harris chugging away in a purely supportive role before eventually breaking free to remind us of his formidable abilities as a guitar soloist.

A bright and breezy “Pennies From Heaven” followed with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and the highly accomplished Ilett taking the first solo. Giacomo’s own feature demonstrated a classically honed grace and fluency and he was followed by Harris on guitar and the excellent Simon Smith on double bass. The latter was involved in a series of scintillating exchanges with the twin guitars with Harris making playful use of a finger slide, something that’s also become a feature of his recent trio performances.

Count Basie’s “Topsy” was played in the style of Django Reinhardt with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and taking the first solo, followed first by Harris and then by Ilett, the changeover almost seamless. Simon Smith completed the solos before Giacomo’s blues tinged clarinet restated the theme.

The quartet slowed things down with “Body and Soul”, the jazz ballad made famous by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Here the guitar rhythms were languid rather than frenetic as Giacomo stated the theme and soloed elegantly and eloquently. Ilett brought a quiet intensity to his solo and Harris again made imaginative use of the slide before Giacomo Smith signed off with a solo clarinet cadenza.

The quartet signed off the first half with a sizzling romp through Reinhardt’s “Festival 48”  - “a tune we all know - vaguely” quipped Harris. Played at a breakneck pace the piece featured dazzling, quote filled solos from Giacomo Smith, Harris and Ilett plus a series of sparkling clarinet and guitar exchanges. This was an invigorating, high energy way to end an excellent, and highly enjoyable, first set.

Giacomo Smith had travelled up from London specifically to play this gig and was due to return via the train from Foregate Street, Worcester later that evening so the event had started bang on time at 7.30 and the interval was kept fairly brief – still time for us to refill our glasses and for the raffle to be conducted though!

The second half kicked off with an imaginative arrangement of “The Way You Look Tonight” with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and taking the first solo followed by Harris and Ilett. After a brief solo bass cameo Simon Smith engaged in a series of absorbing exchanges with his namesake Giacomo. It must be the first time I’ve heard the Smiths without Morrissey!

Giacomo called the tune “When Your Love Has Gone” , a showcase for his clarinet playing which expertly combined the rawness of the blues with the purity and fluency of a classically schooled technique as he shared the solos with Ilett and signed the piece off with another stunning clarinet cadenza.

Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Blues” saw the quartet continuing to run with the blues theme with Harris leading off the solos followed by Giacomo on clarinet and Simon on double bass. It’s those Smiths again.

“Tea For Two” was served as a perky, cheeky cha cha cha with Ilett setting the pace and sharing the solos with Giacomo.

All too soon it was time for the final number of the night with announcer Harris describing Django Reinhardt’s “Daphne” as “a classic gypsy jazz jam session tune” before adding “it’s about a ‘lady of the night’”. The quartet fairly romped through this with Giacomo Smith dazzling with his opening theme statement and subsequent solos before the twin guitarists conducted their own duel, trying to out-quote each other, something that had been going on intermittently all evening. Finally it was time for the Smiths to enjoy a final series of clarinet and bass exchanges.

The railway timetable prevented any chance of a deserved encore after the quartet’s performance elicited one of the most positive and enthusiastic audience reactions that I’ve seen at The Hatch. As Remi and Giacomo headed off to Worcester station we were left to ponder about one of the earliest finishes for an evening jazz gig that I can recall.

Nevertheless the prompt start and the shortened interval still meant that we’d enjoyed plenty of top quality music for our money. The programme may have been relatively predictable but there were some interesting and imaginative arrangements and the playing itself was exceptional, despite the informality of the occasion. The shared language of jazz brought these four excellent musicians together and a genuine rapport was quickly established between them with the sheer skill and vitality of the performances making for a memorable evening of music that rose above the level of the merely ‘routine’.

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