Benedic Lamdin, acclaimed British conductor of downtempo jazz and producer of experimental broken beats, assembled many of the instrumentalists from his beloved Nostalgia 77 Octet, plus a few more of Briton's brightest, to release the 2010 album Smile under the collective moniker Skeletons.
The tracks "Positive Force," "Marathon Man" and "Over the Bridge" set the characteristic tone of the album, with afro-polyrhythms and lush horns. "Mr. Mystery," conversely, is a sparse piece for flute and guitar, which reminds me of the Duke Pearson composition "Idle Moments," as played by Grant Green. Drummer Graham Fox turns it out on both "50 Degrees," with its extended breaks, and on "Skeletons," with its adept changes. While "Firesticks" and the vignette "Blood" both have Ninja-Tune-esque jazzy trip hop breaks, shaken and stirred with 1960s cocktail party ambiance. And the forelorn cuban jazz trumpet on "Gravel" is dextrously flipped for the long, straight blowing on "Guadelupe," a track under the influence of a Gil Evans era Miles Davis.
Lamdin composed most of the numbers on Smiles. The exceptions being "Mulatu" and "Adam and Eve." The former faithfully covers the original by Mulatu Astatke but comes a bit harder given the absence of airy vibraphones to balance the sleazy saxophone. The latter features Alice Russell, yet another young caucasian British vocalist who sounds like a seasoned African American gospel singer. But despite her remarkable talents, "Adam and Eve" seems like an afterthought, as it's the only vocal track on the album, slotted last in the roster.
But on the whole, Smile is a well-currated collection sonic concepts, assured in its laid-back delivery.
The album was originally released on Impossible Ark Records, limited to 300 records, all with hand-letter-pressed sleeves. Demand, however, convinced Lamdin to print another 200 copies, as well as to license further publications to Toronto institutions Do Right! Music and Play De Record.