A return to big band jazz
Reviewed March 2010
Miss Smith to You!
By Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers
Fat Note Records: 2009
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers are an unapologetic throwback to the big band era sounds of fat horns and hot jazz. Their third album is "Miss Smith to You!", and features Smith singing and an eight-man band raising the roof on a mix of originals and well-chosen jazz classics.
The prevailing sound on this disc is one showcasing Smith and the various veteran swing and bop horn players trading turns on the solos. Anchoring the project is keyboardist Chris Siebert, who arranged, produced and co-wrote the three originals with Smith.
Smith has a good voice for this type of thing, high and expressive, and only occasionally evoking earlier singers. On "Miss Brown to You," the disc opener, her Billie Holiday riffing sounds a bit uncomfortable, but her only other echoes seem to be of Ella Fitzgerald and don't get in the way. For the most part, like on the Duke Ellington standard "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Don't Have That Swing," his "I've Got Nothin' But the Blues" and the original "I'm Not Evil," she manages to convey a vocal that matches the crack band in power, range and emotion and sounds like Lavay Smith.
The band members shine; this is really a big band disc as much as it is a vocal disc. On a few of the cuts there is a jazz combo sound that almost makes the horn charts seem secondary, like the Count Basie piano workout "Boogie Woogie (I May Be Wrong)."
The overall feel is one of turning back the clock sixty years, wisely making no concessions to modern music forms. For fans of music from the 1930s and 1940s, and those who enjoy female jazz vocalists singing old classics, "Miss Smith to You!" makes great entertainment.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.