With Portrait, Melvin Smith combines an interesting and relaxing blend of straight-ahead jazz, Caribbean rhythms, and inspirational gospel with his mastery of the sax in a way that begs notice. Joined here by some genuine talent in Reggie Pittman on trumpet, Gregory Royals and Stephen Lee dividing the tracks on piano, and Ezra Henry and Sam Knight sharing drum duties, Smith puts a finely tuned eclectic touch on this project.
Smith makes reshaping some of the better known gospel pieces (e.g., "Wade in the Water," "God Bless the Child," and "We Shall Overcome") actually seem almost easy. One thing is for certain: One can sense that it was a most enjoyable undertaking for the saxman.
Having had the opportunity to study with the likes of Andy McGhee, Walter Beasley, Billy Pierce, and Jimmy Heath, Smith comes well prepared for this and any other musical adventure. Further, he lists as some of his inspirational sources tunes like Coltrane’s "A Love Supreme," Dexter Gordon’s "Go," and Miles Davis’ "58 Sessions, Stella by Starlight."
At age 13, young Mel had the distinct pleasure and fortune to appear at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. He states that "At that point, I knew music would be with me for the rest of my life." Yep, in some way, shape, or form, music will do that to you.
With such inspiration and so many fine models from which to mold his style, Melvin Smith can be expected to wow the jazz scene for quite awhile. Portrait should serve such notice on all who listen.