Gary Dean Smith Project debuts with “Awakening”

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Guitarist Gary Dean Smith has put together an ensemble of first-class musicians to bring play on “Awakening.” The brief, five-song recording astounds with its no-nonsense soundscape. “Awakening” is set for release Feb. 8, 2019.

Gary Dean Smith in brief

Los Angeles native Gary Dean Smith was raised in the American South. His guitar playing is influenced by Southern rock bands, like the Allman Brothers. Having played rock ‘n’ roll guitar since his teens, Smith’s influences seem to cover a span of styles. Later, Smith moved back to Los Angeles to learn jazz guitar. To accomplish this, he studied with Joe Diorio.

Gary Dean Smith: “Awakening”

At the moment, Smith leads Xpansion Of a Sum, a jazz fusion group. The group’s debut album is “Awakening.” “Awakening” was produced by Jimmy Haslip. Haslip is known as being a legendary bassist and founding member of The Yellowjackets.

Smith’s group includes: Spencer Pyne on bass, Donald Young on saxophone, Phil Reyes on multiple instruments and Steve Fitzgerald on drums.

Xpansion Of a Sum refers also to how the sum is greater than the individual parts. In regard to music, the phrase seems to refer to no one musician being more important than the others, and to playing well together in general.

The work of Smith’s ensemble is supplemented by Mer Sal on vocals, Jeff Lorber on keyboards, Jimmy Haslip on bass, Gary Novak on drums and Jimmy Branly on percussion.

“Awakening”: the sound and style of the Gary Dean Smith Project

The title track for “Awakening” sounds bold and begins with a wide-open pop jazz blare of horns. The vocal stylings of Mer Sal are thoughtful and sound like pop at first, until she reaches almost the halfway point in the song. Then, she switches to a little vocalese that any jazz fan would appreciate.

As for the instrumentation, it is a perfect mix of pop and rock. Rock-oriented drums permeate practically all tracks. Almost more important than the sound of the song “Awakening” is the message. In an era often so full of racial tension, a song that stresses racial unity that will occur when black and white people “open their eyes” might seem too simple, but it is also refreshing and worth hearing.

The rest of the album has styles that range from pop to jazz fusion, to more rock-oriented jazz sounds that will likely remind  listeners of Steely Dan.

“Awakening” is startling in its simple message and its collection of world-class players. The album will be available for purchase at a wide range of fine retailers.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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