SHIRLEY SMART: Long Story Short

Tony Andrews, our Jazz Editor writes:

When I reviewed The Concert by Shirley Smart and Robert Mitchell at City University back in 2018 I hope my enthusiasm came through as intended because they not only stunned me but everyone within my group of friends who also attended.

Within the review I mentioned the forthcoming new CD by Shirley as a solo effort but with some help from musicians who I hold in high esteem. I could not wait to get hold of a copy of Long Story Short if only to confirm to myself that Shirley could perform away from the duo seen in concert.

The majority of the 13 tracks are written by Shirley with the inclusion of one track being of traditional Balkan origin and a second of Algerian origin. Before I even played the CD I became very excited to see that one of my favourite pianists is on Tracks 9 & 13 even though Njkki Iles is playing accordion - which I had not encountered previously. If you have not managed to see Nikki Iles then you are missing a treat and she is a delightful lady too. The second lovely surprise was the inclusion of Nicolas Meier on Guitar, tracks 3,6,8 and 10. Nicolas is an amazing musician who although appreciated among UK Jazz audiences he is a World Class performer in my opinion.

The third surprise was Orphy Robinson on vibraphone, tracks 2 and 11. It’s immediately apparent that this CD had been assembled with great care ….. hardly surprising knowing what a fabulous and meticulous musician Shirley Smart really is and in such good company with the musicians already mentioned.

Now to get on with the serious task of reviewing the CD. From Track 1 “Waltz for An Amethyst” it is apparent that Shirley can create the same musical excitement of a live performance on to CD ….. this is no mean feat and not to be taken for granted.

Additionally, the recording quality is very “up close” and as intimate as you would expect more in a live performance. When I read the credits the fact that Paul Jolly of 33 Records had a hand in this as Executive Producer, I wasn’t surprised. He’s produced some amazing CDs both musically and of technical recording excellence.

Track 2 “Halfouine” has Orphy Robinson creating magic on the vibraphone which works so well in partnership with the predominant lead from Shirley on cello….. a highly unusual combination which works so well. I know from my brief but informative chat with Shirley that she has lived in some exotic locations. Consequently what comes across is the extremely diverse use of time signatures and the authentic feel of the Middle East and the like.

Track 5 “Opals” was featured in the live concert and has the most powerful hypnotic feel, I loved it live but it is even more affective on CD with the additional musicians.

Track 9 “Hegel's Muse” proves that Nikki Iles can play accordion to the same high stands as she does piano. I love the sound of this instrument and played well can be breathtaking and yes, it took my breath away here.

I need to play the CD a few more times before I can be categoric but currently “Opals” is my favourite track and ….. it brings tears to my eyes. No idea why. The rest of the band are John Crawford on piano and Demi Garcia Sabat on drums and percussion.

It is a rare thing, of late, to purchase a CD where every track of equal excellence but Shirley has achieved. It is pointless to go through every track and comment individually as the only way to appreciate the excellent musical enjoyment of Long Story Short is to go and buy a copy. I noticed they have it in Foyles Jazz Record Department in Charing Cross Road (London) and it is also available direct from Shirley.

If the world of music and especially Jazz was a fairer and less biased arena then this recording would be up for some sort of accolade or award. The only hurdle is that the truly original compositions and musicianship will not appeal to the overwhelming biased jazz purist. Long Story Short is exactly where music needs to be going. It’s jazz in it's purist form but with the heavy influence of World Music.

Way back in the 1960s one of the most exciting bands around was The Indo Jazz Fusions with Joe Harriet and John Mayer. They created a new experience of combining Jazz and Indian Music. They were exceptional and lasted for 30 years. Shirley Smart has created uniqueness in her different but equally exciting way. She has youth on her side I hope she will be as creative for the same length of time as the IJF …… or even longer.

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