A contrafact is a method of composing a new melody and arrangement on a pre-existing musical composition using its chord progression. In jazz, one of the most famous examples is “Hot House” (Tadd Dameron) based on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (Cole Porter). Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan has been intrigued by this particular way of composition for a number of years. His first album on SteepleChase last year “Alternative Contrafacts” is a superlative example of his interest. Here on this new release “Our Contrafacts” is a collection of new contrafacts by contributed by each member of the trio.
The idea of superimposing new melodies and lines on chord progressions has been around since Tadd Dameron turned Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” into the bebop staple “Hot House” and Bird tweaked Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” into “Moose the Mooche.” Smulyan follows suit with Our Contrafacts, a sequel to his 2018 SteepleChase date, Alternative Contrafacts. The formula is the same and the playing is similarly fantastic.
In a stripped down trio setting with drummer Rodney Green and bassist David Wong, Smulyan offers new ideas on old themes, conveying them in bold, expressive tones on his baritone saxophone. “Drink Up,” a hip stop-time riff on “Angel Eyes,” has the leader blowing with gusto and bluesy, hard-boppish authority. On an energized romp through “Homebody,” based on “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” Smulyan and Wong go toe-to-toe on the chops-busting Tristan-like line, with the bassist demonstrating some impressive arco work and Smulyan unleashing some of his most potent soloing of the program.
Listeners can play their own guessing game in regard to contrafacts’ sources while savoring those deep, robust tones and double-timed lines from Smulyan’s horn along the way.
— Bill Milkowski, Downbeat
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