I remember the first time that I listened to Miles Davis, and it just happened to be a big band album arranged by Gil Evans, called Miles Ahead (1957). The richness of the horns struck me like nothing before. But then I can remember rediscovering him at every milestone: he is an artist that redefined his sound with every decade. I bring this up because Jessica Smith’s debut album, Tricks of Light, alone carries Miles’ range.
It is posterity after all, that a jazz musician today can speak the hundred-year-old vocabulary of America’s great simultaneous classic and modern form of music. Jessika Smith is a composer whose language speaks to every milestone of her genre, her ancestry. I might suggest that no single album can really do that without a big band. I say that inviting contradiction. The arrangements on this record can be stark and minimal. Emotions range from silly to sweet, distressed to psychedelic, and more, using the full capacity of horn arrangements.
The horn is the key to this album. Smith is a saxophonist and her solos, though prominent, step aside for the collaborative power of her band. This album was inspired by traveling in Europe with the University of Oregon Big Band, where she is Alumni. The locals appearing on this record also speak to the great quality of jazz players in Oregon. I would expect a prolific future from young Jessica Smith, and kudos to PJCE Records for putting Tricks of Light out.