www.AllAboutJazz.com review of Smile by Jim Santella - February 2006
Gary Brunotte's piano trio provides a lovely session of lyrical ballads and gentle reflection on Smile, a tribute album dedicated to Dexter, the pianist’s family pet who passed
away at age fifteen. Judging from the album cover photo, he must surely have left behind pleasant memories and golden moments that remain frozen in time.
Ten originals and four standard tracks allow Brunotte to tell his story openly. From the blues of “Seal-Point Strut” to the quaint bossa mood of “Triste,” the session
rises and falls with emotions bared and passion revealed. Kirsten Lambert adds lovely vocals on “Smile” and “Triste” that settle in gently to extend the album’s caressing mood.
Dexter adds a cat-vocal comment to close Brunotte’s light “Meow Samba,” a lively, uptempo romp that dances on padded feet.
”Ciao Meow” simmers slowly and meaningfully with a lush piano trio texture all around, while “Samba Siamese” drives with the energy of a kitten toying with some insignificant
household item that harbors an interest for nobody else but him. For the most part, this recommended piano trio album waltzes generously to a balladeer’s tune, bringing
bassist Steve Haines and drummer Bill Berg alongside Brunotte for an excursion into the land where heart and soul take control. His Smile is as beautiful as a cherished and
Raleigh News & Observer review of Smile by Owen Cordle - May 2006
'Smile' (Summit Music Publishing), pianist Gary Brunotte's fourth CD, recalls the delicate, harmonically spellbinding touch of the Bill Evans Trio. Working with drummer Bill Berg and bassist Steve Haines or Rick Jones, Brunotte offers 14 concise performances, each one just enough for the group to make a memorable statement and move on. It beats marathon soloing any day.
Brunotte, who moved to North Carolina in 1997 and lives in Durham, has refined his style through attending and then teaching at Berklee College of Music, a stint at Rodney Dangerfield's comedy club in Manhattan and numerous gigs in New York's Hudson Valley area. Haines, who teaches at UNC-Greensboro (and who performs on the majority of the tracks), combines power with lyricism and nimble high-register work. Jones is equally dexterous and tasteful. Berg's accompaniment, fills and solos are measured and beautifully recorded.
Brunotte composed 10 of the album's tunes. If you dig a romantic approach to harmony, his "Ditty for the Kitty," "Wood Lake," "In the Night" and "Classicat" fill the bill handsomely. Vocalist Kirsten Lambert joins the group on Charlie Chaplin's title tune -- there is also an instrumental version -- and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Triste." Brunotte's "Blue-Point Blues" is the most dapper example of jazz-rock you're likely to hear anywhere.
Brunotte adds accordion on a couple of performances, a reminder of the instrument he started on growing up in Minnesota.
JazzTimes review of Smile by Thomas Conrad - May 2006
As I write this review, my cat Cricket is curled up in my lap. I wouldn't mention it except that I am reviewing an album that comes with a cat calendar and whose stated mission
is to create "purr-fect jazz for cats and cat lovers." 'Smile' is dedicated to Gary Brunotte's late cat Dexter, who brought him "nearly 15 years of joy, love and smiles." As it happens,,
my Cricket replaced a cat named Dexter, a magnificent 18-pounder fluff-creature who, because of deep-rooted psychological problems, was with me for far fewer than 15 years. It may take a
cat person to fully comprehend the sass that Brunotte puts in the stride of "Seal-Point Strut" or the light-footed waltz whimsy of "Ditty for the Kitty" or the haughty
composure of "Blue-Point Blues." But any jazz person will appreciate Brunotte's crisp, tasteful, witty, lyrical elaborations upon his original themes. In the last couple years, Charlie Chaplin's
"Smile" has made a comeback. Among others, Bill Mays, Mark Kramer and Brad Mehldau (twice) have recorded it recently. Brunotte's two versions here include a rapt, husky vocal by Kirsten
Lambert and an airy samba. Brunotte understands sambas like he understands cats.
www.JazzReview.com review of Smile by Roman St James - March 2006
I have to admit: the first couple of times that I listened to Gary Brunotte’s Smile, I was not at all impressed. That is in spite of the fact that it was immediately apparent that he’s quite a fine piano player, backed by equally fine bass playing and drumming (Rick Jones and Steve Haines share the bass chair, with Bill Berg on drums). And Brunotte has great references, having played with such luminaries as Lionel Hampton, Tom Harrell and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. But the fact is that initially it was a bit difficult to take the album too seriously when I realized that it was dedicated to his cat, Dexter, and that it came complete with a 2006 calendar of cat photos. Pet references aside, my real point of contention was in the fact that the songs were so short – averaging about four minutes each – and that there didn’t seem to be much stretching or risk-taking happening during the short solos.
However, after listening to it a few more times I began to become aware of the subtleness in Brunotte’s playing and to realize that he was, at times, actually saying quite a bit in his very brief solo flights. Certainly there are some tracks on this album that work better than others, but the overall listening experience is an enjoyable one. For example, the disc opens with “Ditty For The Kitty.” a slightly sad, sentimental sounding piece. The solos by Haines and Berg, short though they are, are very nice (Berg’s brush work throughout this tune is truly stellar). Brunotte’s piano playing is sure and light, confident but almost ethereal in effect. The next tune, “Merry Old Land Of 'Paws',” sounds pretty much the way you would expect it to from the title – bouncy and upbeat, full of joy and laughter. “Meow Samba” is another great tune. It’s only 3:18 long, yet both Brunotte and Berg manage to make interesting solo statements.
There are two vocal tracks (not including the one that the cat, Dexter, is heard on), which feature singer Kirsten Lambert. She has a very pleasant voice, and although her vocal version of the title track “Smile” is a bit lukewarm (the second, all-instrumental version of this tune is much more intriguing), she heats things up with an extremely sultry version of “Triste,” sung in what I assume to be the original Portuguese.
Smile is not exactly cutting-edge or innovative by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a solid straight-ahead effort by an accomplished group of musicians. If you’re looking for a good disc to relax to, this could be the one.
www.gnu-bee.com review of Smile by Gnubee - March 2006
Gary Brunotte's third recording is a tribute to his departed cat, Dexter. Perhaps this recording should be entitled Smile Twice as the title tune, Charlie Chaplin's Smile, is presented in two quite different arrangements.
Included bonus: a 2006 cat calendar (available separately) with photos taken by Gary's wife, Carol.
From comments at Amazon.com: Pianist/composer Gary Brunotte brings new life to the great jazz standards and dazzles with his original compositions, extending rather than just re-creating tradition. The intimate setting of a trio is the perfect vehicle for Brunotte's sensitive touch on the keys. Bill Berg accompanies on drums and Steve Haines plays acoustic bass. Smile is Brunotte's most ambitious recording since his debut CD with Eric Marienthal over a decade ago.
Smile is a piano trio album of mostly original tunes (with a couple of vocals). This is the kind of sound that I seek out when I go to hear live music, so I am absolutely delighted with this addition to my collection.
Gary's influences include Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Brasil '66, BST and Jimmy Smith. Gary was an organist before he switched to piano. You might catch a few whiffs of Hammond B-3 (sneaky).
First impressions are lasting. Right away I noticed the tight work between bass and piano, playing as one, reading each other's thoughts, almost as if the bass were being played by Gary's left hand (or pedals on an organ). The drumming is pleasingly understated, subtle, decorative, yet definitely part of the scene. There are no pretensions on this album, just solid tasty music.
"Ditty For The Kitty" -
This song reminds me of Vince Guaraldi's Christmastime Is Here, but more up-tempo.
"Merry Old Land of 'Paws'" -
We're off to see the Wiz. Merry, indeed.
"Wood Lake" -
The liner notes tell us that Gary lived in Wood Lake, MN, a community roughly south of Granite Falls and west of Redwood Falls, pretty country indeed. With apologies to Gary, for this song I have imposed my mental images of Wood Lake in Richfield, a serene pristine gem of a nature center that abuts the east side of I-35W between 66th and 76th streets. I went for many lunch-break walks at Wood Lake with it's floating bridge and always left relaxed and refreshed. For me, this reflective song has the same rejuvenating effect.
A very nice "traditional" take of Charlie Chaplin's chestnut. Features Kirsten Lambert vocal.
"Seal Point Strut..." -
...twitches its tail with feline sassiness. This cat is looking for some mischief! I am reminded of Diana Krall's version of Peal Me A Grape. Can you say "cattitude"? Dig that stride.
"Meow Samba" -
Yum yum, tastes like Manfredo Fest (see note).
Dexter himself gets the last word.
"In The Night" -
Quiet, reflective, moody.
"Morning Mist" -
A perfect waltz to go with your first cup of coffee, ala Bill Evans.
"Triste (Sadness)" -
This rendition of Jobim's classic tune exemplifies the soul of Brasilian music. Nice accordion in the intro. Features Kirsten Lambert vocal.
"Blue-Point Blues" -
This kitty is a sassy, bluesy vamp.
A very short waltz, slightly reminiscent of Erik Satie, but more of Bill Evans.
"Samba Siamese" -
Gary really stretches out on this delightful 3/4 modal samba, the most ambitious offering on this album. Gary doubles some of the lines with accordion here - a very nice touch that let's us know that Gary is his own man.
"Ciao Meow" -
This ballad in Bill Evans' style is a touching farewell to Dexter.
This second helping is a nice upbeat Latin treatment and, yes, it makes me smile.
"After the pain of loss come pleasant memories of the good times we have shared with those that are no longer with us, be they people or pets. We draw strength from those memories and smile as we move on." ~me
As a dog lover, I say "woof, woof" - get this album!
Buy directly from the Artist
I got my CD direct from Gary. It arrived in a couple of days and included an extra page of album info that you are not likely to get from the other sources. In addition, I had the pleasure of exchanging some emails with Gary, so I feel that I got to know him personally. How cool is that? The man is as warm as his music.
Thanks for the warm fuzzies, Gary!
Try before you buy. Listen to Gary's mp3 clips at his website and at CDBaby.
Read a "real" review of this album at All About Jazz.
This is my second album review. Ask yourself, "How often am I moved by someone's music that I have to let other people know about it?".
* Gary has his own unique style, so I hope he doesn't mind the comparison to Manfredo Fest, but from me it is extremely high praise. Manfredo played with Brasil '66 in the '60's. Later, Manfredo lived in the Twin Cities for some time and had a huge influence on the local jazz scene. He became a dear friend and he will always be my favorite pianist.
© 2006, Gnubee
(a jazz fan in Minnesota)
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