No matter what spiritual path you follow (if any), there is something about listening to songs of faith that uplifts, inspires and soothes the soul. Take a songbook of church evergreens and gospel hits, give them fresh arrangements, add a few well-crafted originals, spotlight some of the finest musicians including legends and hit-makers, and present the material as contemporary jazz instrumentals, funky R&B grooves and enlightened pop tunes. That’s exactly what bassist Sean O’Bryan Smith (www.seanobryansmith.com) did to create “Reflection,” his second solo set that will be released next Tuesday (July 17). We recently sent you the 12-song CD.
Originally conceived three years ago as an EP, “Reflection” evolved into a full-length record the more Smith listened to hymns and worship tunes at church while on break from touring. Rooted in soul music and tracked using vintage recording nuances from the STAX era, Smith produced and arranged the gospel jazz disc in his Nashville studio. As a respected first-call bass player, his Rolodex is thick with top-notch musicians. Twenty-three acolytes were quick to join the processional, including Randy Brecker, Chuck Loeb, Gerald Albright, Frank Catalano, Jack Pearson (The Allman Brothers), Jeff Franzel (Taylor Swift, *NSYNC, Clay Aiken), vocalist Lisa Hearns and actor-musician-spoken word artist Malcolm Jamal-Warner.
Opening in a celebratory mood, Smith’s rambunctious bass plucks the lead melody shadowed by a stirring organ on a power funk rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” In Smith’s hands, “Blessed Assurance” becomes a soul tune that would be at home on adult contemporary radio. The laid back groove cuddles a warm bass melody, Franzel’s eloquent piano musings and comforting sax licks. Smith approached his bass-work on the somber, contemplative “Mighty To Save” as an orchestral piece. His bass melody is echoed by electric guitar amidst expressive piano and organ noodling. Loeb’s spirited guitar and roof-raising organ blasts spark “Blessed Be Your Name,” the first single serviced to radio. Franzel’s original, “Me Without You,” is an aching torch song featuring Hearns accompanied by piano and six-string bass. Another original, this one authored by Smith, “Called” gives voice to Albright’s reassuring sax on the invigorating contemporary jazz affirmation. “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” is converted into a shuffling Dixieland march that detonates midpoint into a straight-ahead jazz jam illuminated by Catalano’s swinging sax as Pearson’s slide guitar glorifies Smith’s bass oration. Brecker’s prayerful trumpet provides a personal declaration on the melodically meditative “Give Me Jesus.” The bass prophet presides at the pulpit to deliver a rousing sermon as a celestial choir bears witness on the gospel classic “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power.” A vocal number highlighting keyboardist-crooner Gary A. Brown, Smith’s five-string bass is particularly gregarious, firing fast and furious flourishes on the love song of faith, loyalty and devotion. A marching band drum line rips the revelry in a celebration of spirit on “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as lavish horns fire up the praise on the mélange that dishes tastes of New Orleans and South Africa. Smith composed the music for the title track, a powerful and contemplative bass, B3 organ and spoken word piece that closes the collection. His probing bass invites a soul-searching journey, an honest introspective rumination on self-love and surrendering to faith.
A self-taught musician who grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee with a mother who sung jazz and blues professionally, Smith’s first love was soul music before discovering his passion for contemporary jazz and rock fusion. After a stay in Seattle post-high school, the bassist moved to Nashville where he began playing studio sessions for hit songwriter-producer Monty Powell. This lead to recording dates with Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Anna Wilson, Darius Rucker, The Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Carlton and Rick Braun. Smith toured extensively during Billy Ray Cyrus’ peak, which generated live work with Rascal Flatts, Kenny Rogers, Wynonna, Esperanza Spaulding, Victor Wooten, Brian Bromberg, amongst many others, further propelling the bassist to become a premiere sideman. His eclectic 2008 solo debut, “Tapestry,” features 32 musicians and underscores his astute and agile bass techniques. Grounded and centered, Smith strives to make music with meaning at the highest level. “Reflection” provides a complete picture of the musical missionary – past, present and a glimpse into the future – as he steps out on faith as a frontman. Please consider Smith for a feature, interview, performance, album review and/or an appropriate roundup piece. I’ll touch base again soon. Thanks for your consideration.